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1969 Horatio Alger Award Winner

Ronald Reagan*

Fortieth President of the United States

"Life begins when you begin to serve."

Born in 1911 in Tampico, Illinois, Ronald Reagan was the son of a second generation Irish shoe salesman. His father was an alcoholic who lost his job on Christmas Eve, at the onset of the Depression, and struggled thereafter to support his family. His mother, a pious woman of Scotch and English descent, was known for her service to the less fortunate, and often visited the county jail to sing hymns and read the Bible to prisoners.

The family, which moved from place to place as the elder Reagan sought work, never owned a home of their own. Reagan worked at odd jobs to save money for college, served as student body president, and excelled in sports and the high school drama club. At Eureka College, he studied sociology and economics, returning home each summer to work as a lifeguard at the local pool.

After college, he became a baseball announcer for the Chicago Cubs at WHO radio in Des Moines. While traveling with the Cubs in California, he took a screen test, which led to a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. He starred in Love Is in the Air in 1937, and made 19 films over the next two years. When the United States entered World War II, Reagan joined the Army Air Corps, and was assigned to a unit making training films. Returning to the movies after the war, he was cast as the leading man in 50 films. During that time, he served on the board of the Screen Actors Guild for 22 years and was president of the union from 1947 to 1952.

Reagan won national political prominence with a televised speech supporting Republican candidate Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election. In 1966, he won his own election and became governor of California. He was reelected in 1970. As governor, Reagan gained a national reputation as an executive who fought hard for his point of view, but was willing to compromise. He won the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1980 and soundly defeated incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter. He was reelected in 1984 in a landslide victory.

He began his presidency with the release of the American hostages in Iran and is credited with ending the Cold War with communism. When he left office in 1989, his approval rating was the highest final rating of any U. S. president since World War II.

In the summer of 1989, Reagan received an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. In November 1991, the Ronald Reagan Library and Center for Public Affairs opened in Simi Valley, California. Three years later, Reagan announced that he had Alzheimer's disease. He died 10 years later, in 2004, at the age of 93.

Espousing the rights and responsibilities of the individual and promoting the return to "traditional values," Reagan was often credited with restoring America's pride and rebuilding a spirit of patriotism. "Don't let anyone tell you that America's best days are behind us-that the American spirit has been vanquished," he said in a 1982 State of the Union message. "We've seen it triumph too often in our lives to stop believing in it now."

* Deceased