Former President Reagan marks birthday in seclusion
Saturday, February 7, 2004
SIMI VALLEY, Calif. -- Ronald Reagan turned 93 in seclusion Friday in his Los Angeles home while schoolchildren serenaded his wife, Nancy, at his presidential library and she dedicated the cornerstone for a new pavilion to house the former Air Force One.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proclaimed it Ronald Reagan Day in California and there were celebrations in Illinois, where he was born and went to college.
"Ronald Reagan's vision of 'peace through strength' impelled the decisive end to the Cold War, and his commitment to our armed forces contributed to the restoration of patriotism and pride in America," Schwarzenegger's proclamation read.
Bathed in sun at the hilltop Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 126 youngsters sang "Happy Birthday" to Mrs. Reagan. The construction crew building the pavilion presented her a birthday gift for the Gipper -- a metal lunch pail.
She laughed when she found out it was filled with jelly beans, but did not speak at the brief gathering.
The former Air Force One, already on site with its wings clipped and stored alongside the gleaming fuselage, will be displayed when the pavilion opens in spring 2005. The jet was used as Air Force One by Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Reagan, Bill Clinton and both Bushes before it was retired from service in 2001, according to Boeing Co.
While the ceremony was taking place, Reagan, who has lived longer than any other U.S. president, was at home 50 miles away. He's remained in seclusion since disclosing nearly a decade ago that he has the memory-sapping Alzheimer's disease.
Since then, little information has been released about him. Asked Friday how her husband was doing, Mrs. Reagan simply nodded and said "fine." She has said she's not sure her husband even recognizes her.
"It's been difficult for Mrs. Reagan," said close friend Merv Griffin. "She's amazing. That's probably the loneliest life of all."
Michael Reagan told CBS' "The Early Show" that he saw his father the other day.
"I have to be honest with you, he had great color. ... You can't communicate with him, but he has a strong heart and strong lungs. All you can do is just hug him, and give him a kiss and say a prayer and hope for the best," he said.
Reagan was born Feb. 6, 1911, in Tampico, Ill.
At Reagan's birthplace, a second-floor apartment, about a dozen sheet and layer cakes were prepared for visitors. In Dixon, Ill., where the family moved when Reagan was in fifth grade, tours of Reagan's boyhood home were scheduled for about 100 fifth-graders.
In Eureka, Ill., Eureka College paid tribute to its most famous graduate Friday by reopening a campus museum that has been closed because of an arson fire. The museum houses about 3,000 items donated by Reagan, a 1932 graduate.
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