Exactly 109 years ago – on Feb. 6, 1911 at 4:16 am – Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Ill., in an apartment above the local bank. The 10-pound boy was supposed to have been named Donald, but since a cousin had recently been born and was given that name, his parents decided to name him Ronald.
Birthdays are always special. Not just for the person who was born on that day, but also for the mother who gave birth to the baby.
As we celebrate the anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s birth, it’s fitting to also pay tribute to his mother, Nelle Reagan, who planted the seeds of patriotism, optimism, faith and service in the heart of her son.
These seeds took root in the heartland of America when Ronald Reagan was a boy and young man, and fully bloomed in Hollywood, Sacramento, Washington and ultimately on the world stage.
Young Ronald’s family was very poor. His father was an alcoholic and bounced from job to job, causing the Reagans to move often from one small struggling Midwest town to another.
If you looked at the cards of life this little boy had been dealt, you likely would have felt sorry for him. Yet Nelle Reagan raised him to believe that his life could add up to more than the sum of his circumstances and that he could define his life, rather than allowing it to define him.
Without knowing she was raising a future president, Nelle nurtured, guided and inspired her son to believe in himself and in the limitless possibilities of life in America.
Ronald Reagan never saw being from a small town as something he needed to overcome, but instead saw it as the very foundation for all he would later become. He took after his mother and was an eternal, incurable optimist, adopting her view that “God has a plan for everyone and seemingly random twists of fate are all part of His plan … and in the end, everything will work out for the best.”
Even when setbacks came, Nelle’s encouragement helped her son see opportunities that still existed.
Disappointed over not getting a job locally after graduating from college, Ronald Reagan was forced to leave Illinois in search of employment elsewhere. This twist of fate was the best thing that could have happened to him, leading first to his career as a radio sportscaster, followed by a contract with Warner Bros as an actor with a career that blossomed into movie and TV stardom.
Although his work led Reagan far from home, it also led him closer to fulfilling his destiny.
Nelle lived long enough to see her son’s rise to fame as an actor, likely assuming that would be the pinnacle of his career. She died in 1962 at the age of 79 after suffering with the debilitating effects of what would later become known as Alzheimer’s disease. Little did she know her son would go on to become governor of California and then president of the United States.
Two years after his beloved mother’s death, Ronald Reagan gave a speech titled “A Time for Choosing” on behalf of his friend, Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., who was running for president.
Unknowingly, this “rendezvous with destiny” launched Reagan’s political career and changed the trajectory of his life. Although his mother didn’t live long enough to see that chapter unfold,
Ronald Reagan always kept her close in thought, even displaying a portrait of her many years later in his post-presidency office.
Every mother thinks her children are exceptional, but did Nelle know there was something extra special about Ronald, who was nicknamed Dutch when he was young? Did she create for him that pathway in life? Or just marvel at the process?
While few of us raise a child who grows up to become president of the United States, many can relate to Nelle Reagan as a parent and learn a lot from her about providing the foundation needed to challenge our children to dream big dreams and pursue them with passion and patriotism.
Mrs. Reagan’s inspiration and optimism – even amidst trying circumstances – provide a roadmap for parenting with intention, excellence, faith and joy.
So as we celebrate President Reagan’s birth 109 years ago, may we also remember the small woman with auburn hair who gave life and gave an expansive future to the little boy who grew up to inspire a nation and change the world.
Happy Birthday President Reagan! And our special gratitude to his mom, Nelle.