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One for the “Gipper”
By Carol LeBeau
10/9/2011 1:34:42 PM


My First Visit to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum

Mindlessly sorting through a pile of mail one day, a postcard awash in red, white and blue caught my eye.  On the front was the smiling face of our country’s newest president, Ronald Reagan.  On the back was a brief message penned by my Dad.

“Dear Carol,” it read, “The country is in good hands. Love, Dad.”  It was January 1981 and the 40th president of the United States had just been sworn in to office.

Twenty-something and just becoming politically aware, it was difficult for me to understand my Dad’s zeal.  So elated about Mr. Reagan’s victory, he actually made the trip from Davenport, Iowa to Washington, D.C. and stood for hours in the bitter January cold for a chance to witness in person the inauguration of his hero, Ronald Reagan.

It’s been 31 years since Dad sent that postcard. I now appreciate the contribution Mr. Reagan made to this country and the world.  Maybe that’s why five million visitors since 1991 have made the trek to California’s Simi Valley to remember the “Gipper” at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.  I finally made the trek a few weeks ago.

I have my friend and former 10News colleague, Adrienne Alpert to thank for making it happen.  These days, she’s one of the top broadcast journalists in Los Angeles and knows the L.A. area like the back of her hand.  The consummate tour guide, Adrienne recently arranged a wonderful weekend of sightseeing culminating in a scenic trip with our husbands to the Library and Museum honoring Ronald Reagan.

I realize it’s election season.  So don’t worry. I have no intention of offending anyone’s political sensibilities here.  But whether you lean left or right – if you have an open mind and appreciation for U.S. history, I guarantee you’ll enjoy this marvelous museum and trip down memory lane.

Perched on a mountaintop with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, valleys and Pacific Ocean, the Reagan Library is certainly one of California’s most beautiful and unique destinations.

The grounds are spacious and magnificently manicured.  Strategically placed gardens and benches provide a setting so serene, the Library grounds seemed more like a retreat center than a popular tourist attraction.

The building is magnificent…beautifully conveying the “shining city on a hill often referred to by President Reagan.  It also serves as his final resting place.

There’s so much to see…100,000 square feet filled with 24 different galleries, a full-sized replica of the Oval Office and the actual Air Force One aircraft which served as the “Flying White House” for Mr. Reagan and six other presidents.

Displays utilizing pictures, artifacts and the former president’s inspiring quotes helped us follow the life of a young Ronald Reagan – as he rose from local hero in Illinois… to the glamorous world of Hollywood stardom… all the way to governor of California and ultimately the presidency of the United States.

The interactive stuff is very cool.  At Adrienne’s prodding, I experienced what it’s like to give an inaugural address complete with TelePromter!  And I loved the display of Nancy Reagan’s wardrobe…her classy suits, elegant gowns and to-die-for (even today!) red inaugural dress – peplum style with mandarin collar and perfect pillbox hat. Exquisite!

We lunched under the wing of Air Force One on salads and sandwiches from a little self-serve pub.  The food was delicious and the spectacular view of the valley from inside the 90,000 square-foot exhibit hangar gave new meaning to “table with a view.”

Re-energized, we climbed aboard Air Force One for a group photo followed by a fascinating tour of the aircraft that carried Ronald Reagan to 26 countries and 46 states during his presidency. 

As the day wound down, we slowly made our way back to the car by way of the replica or the White House Rose Garden, a huge, haunting piece of the Berlin Wall, a decommissioned F-14 Tomcat and President Reagan’s Memorial site. 

Inspired by the former president’s life story and powerful quotes, I found myself longing for the “good old days.”  “If we lose freedom here,” Mr. Reagan warned, “there’s no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth.”

I realize it’s easy to romanticize the past. The 80’s, like today, were rife with problems domestically and around the world.  Perhaps the difference was in the rhetoric.

“Freedom,” declared the president, “is one of the deepest and noblest aspirations of the human spirit.”

Even those who disagree with Reagan’s actions or policies can’t deny his message of faith, hope and, most especially, freedom.


“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans.”
- President Ronald Reagan


Contact Carol by emailing her at Carol@palomarhealth.org.



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