There are many Reagans buried in the Irish section of Fulton’s cemetery, as the Irish were instrumental in that city's early formation. John “Jack” Reagan and Nellie Wilson were probably both born and raised in Fulton.

The two met while Jack was working in a store owned by J.W. Broadhead. It was the building on Fourth Street (AKA Main Street) and 10th Avenue. It was a general merchandise store, and he worked there for eight years as a shoe salesman. His sister, Kate, also worked there and reportedly got him the job. Nellie C. Wilson clerked there as well as in the millinery shop across the street. Back then, a suit cost between $4 and $19, plain dresses were 27 cents and shoes were $1.49.

It was a simple life. The couple married in the rectory of Immaculate Conception Church in 1904.

Primarily a career clothing store manager, Jack Reagan specialized in shoes. He was a Catholic, but his wife remained a member of the Christian Church throughout her life. She prayed for him during occasional alcohol binges and, except for those, he was a hard-working family man. He and Neil often attended Mass together. Friends called Ronald “Dutch,” Neil was known as “Moon” and the parents were simply Jack and Nellie. The couple were ahead of their times in pursuing separate religions and had relatively relaxed, though firm, relationships with the boys.

Recently, I attended a talk at the Fulton Historical Museum (The Martin House) and was enthralled to hear Mrs. Joan Johnson, of Tampico, Ill., which is the birthplace of President Ronald Reagan, speak on “Reagan’s Roots in Dutch Soil” and the family’s life in both Fulton and Tampico. Oddly, President Reagan’s nickname was always Dutch. At birth, his father said he looked like a Dutchman.

About a half-dozen of Reagan’s maternal cousins (Wilson side) were in attendance at the recent talk. There was one relative from Clinton. Mrs. Gertrude Heinz Wilson Baumeister lived on Pershing Boulevard in the 1930s and 1940s. Her husband, Francis, and son, David, ran bars on Fourth Avenue South, and on Main Avenue. The elder was called “Bones.”

In 1906, the Fulton Journal reported on the Reagan’s move to Tampico, saying they were staying at the Pitney Hotel, and that Jack would work at H.C. Pitney’s Store. Local newspapers reported such items then, as everybody loved reading about their neighbors. Soon the Reagans were living in a spacious apartment above a bakery owned by Fred Seymour.

Later, Seymour constructed a building next door, but left the windows on the second floor. Both families in the adjoining apartments could step through the vacated windows. Ronald Reagan did just that in 1950 when he returned to lead a parade. The Reagan apartment had three bedrooms, electricity, and a skylight. When the building became a museum, they put a rug on the floor and a sign on the wall saying “President Ronald Reagan stepped here.” They were sure he’d return, and, true to his roots, he did.

In Tampico, Nellie taught elocution lessons. She appeared bright and well-educated.

This helps explain Ronald’s career as a good student, radio announcer, actor, Screen Actors Guild president, governor and President.

Big brother, Neil, was born in Tampico in 1908; Ronald on Feb. 6, 1911. The boys loved doing wild things, especially playing by the railroad trains. Once, they were caught scuttling under a train about to move, an act for which they got ear-lifted home. Nellie was devoted to her Christian Church and Jack attended K of C meetings. Automobiles soon came into their lives and road-trips were often taken to Fulton. One was to Clinton.

At Thanksgiving in 1913, the Reagans appeared in a play. Nellie was the star. Jack had a part, too. However, in 1915, Mr. Pitney sold out and the Reagans moved to Chicago for a short time, but soon they were back in Galesburg, Monmouth, and Tampico because they didn’t care for big cities.

One day Mr. Reagan came home to find 5-year-old Ronald reading the newspaper. “What are you doing, you haven’t even started school?” exclaimed Jack.

Ronald had to prove that he could read. Then the family discovered that, due to a photographic memory, Ronald had picked up nearly all the words from his mother’s nightly storybook reading.

The boys liked their Tom Mix cowboy movies and once played with a shotgun owned by a friend’s family. Others were nearby, as was the usual case, and after the gun went off and blew a hole in the ceiling, several adults came running only to find all of the boys quietly reading their Sunday school books.

Ronald loved football and swimming and was a superb lifeguard who saved many people. He didn’t seem to take to baseball though, which was very popular. He was found to have poor eyesight, and he hated glasses.

Later, however, he was one of the first people to try contact lenses.

The Reagans moved to Dixon, Ill., in 1920, to run the Fashion Booth in that town with Mr. Pitney. About the same time, Ronald fell in love with horseback riding, which eventually led him to own a ranch in California. As a boy, Ronald was found to be a natural leader in football and he was very patriotic.

In the late 1920s, Ronald and his friends drove off to Eureka College in a 1922 Buick. After graduating, he worked at WOC in Davenport and then WHO in Des Moines. He was gifted on the radio at being able to make up exciting baseball games from the ticker-tape feed.

While in California with the Cubs for spring training, handsome Ronald did a Hollywood screen-test and the rest is history.

Dutch Reagan brought his whole family to Hollywood in 1937. They started calling his mom “Nell.” She died there in 1962. Ronald Reagan’s most notable role was the dying hero, George Gipp, in “Knute Rockne, All American,” but his best movie was “Kings Row” and he had a difficult role as a double amputee. His autobiography was titled “Where’s the Rest of Me,” which was a metaphorical twist of his best line in that movie.

On Nov. 3, 1980, the day before Ronald Reagan was elected our 40th President, a large rainbow appeared over the town of Tampico — the end of which appeared to rest over his family’s apartment.

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