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Plans underway for Reagan's centennial in 2011

Celebrations in D.C., California and Illinois will recall Reagan the president, the movie star and even the lifeguard.

February 06, 2010|By Richard Simon

Reporting from Washington — With the 100th anniversary of Ronald Reagan's birth exactly one year away, the former president's admirers are pondering what kind of party to throw.

Events are planned across the country: A Reagan-themed float will grace Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena during the Rose Parade on Jan. 1. His boyhood home of Dixon, Ill., has commissioned an original piece of music -- the "Reagan Suite" -- to honor him. A program at Eureka College, from which Reagan graduated, will reflect on his Midwestern roots. Warner Bros. has been contacted about a possible event looking at the former president's Hollywood years. An effort is even underway to name a mountain in Nevada after him.

And events abroad are likely. A statue of Reagan will be unveiled in London, for example.

Indeed, places with any connection to the former president and California governor, who died in 2004, are exploring ways to honor him.

"I can tell you that it's going to be probably a centennial program unlike any others," said Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Simi Valley), a member of the bipartisan Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission created by Congress.

And the celebration will not cost federal taxpayers a single penny, "as President Reagan would have wanted," said Stewart McLaurin, executive director of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation's Centennial Celebration, which is working to raise private funds.

One potential planning challenge is that Reagan's 100th birthday -- Feb. 6, 2011 -- will fall on Super Bowl Sunday, a fact that the Gipper probably would have appreciated. "We will be discussing possible synergies with that important day for the nation's attention," McLaurin said.

Near Simi Valley, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library will host several events that weekend, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony and military flyover to celebrate its museum's multimillion-dollar makeover, followed the next day by a Los Angeles-area concert.

"By the looks of things, there's going to be efforts, probably in every community in America where there is a Reagan supporter," to observe the centennial, said John D. Heubusch, the foundation's executive director.

In Dixon, a piece by composer David Holsinger celebrating Reagan's life and legacy will premiere at the Dixon Historic Theatre -- "a movie theater where Ronald Reagan would go," said Ann Lewis, who heads the local centennial planning committee.

The local park district plans to re-create the beach where Reagan the lifeguard was credited with saving 77 lives. Plans call for installing a replica of the lifeguard stand he used, with a sign from the era reading: "Profane Language Prohibited."

The late president's birthplace of Tampico, Ill., is raising funds to dedicate a statue of "Young Reagan" in (where else?) Reagan Park.

And the Reagan Alumni Assn., made up of about with 4,500 people who worked in his administration or on his campaigns, is considering a Washington-area event focusing on "Reagan's enduring guiding principles."

Planners have been studying previous presidential centennials for ideas.

In 1982, a celebration honoring Franklin D. Roosevelt included a birthday ball in Washington to benefit the March of Dimes and a Broadway musical tribute in recognition of FDR's support for the arts during the Depression.

In 1990, Dwight D. Eisenhower's centennial included an air show, a battalion-size military encampment and a nostalgic look at Ike's presidential years that featured a Chubby Checker concert in Eisenhower's hometown of Abilene, Kan.

Gallegly said that one of his goals is for young people to "understand why so many of us feel the way we do about Ronald Reagan."

For the very young, Dixon plans a jelly bean-counting contest in celebration of a favorite Reagan treat.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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