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Bill Flick and Ronald Reagan
The year was 1982. The White House was such an accessible place back then, they even let in reporters like Bill Flick in.

Of all the tributes, all the testimonials, all the remembrances of Ronald Reagan as the world this weekend celebrates the 100th anniversary of his birth, there is one topic that, as far I as I know, has not been covered in any of the mass coverage.

"Mr. President, what about the rumors that you and your Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity brothers at Eureka College used to get illegal moonshine at a building still standing in downtown Roanoke, Ill.?"

Reagan got asked that once in the Oval Office, by a dorky-looking kid with a '70s haircut working for a newspaper in the heart of Illinois.

Me.

He didn't flinch.

"Well," he said, with that trademark "aw shucks" grin, "I do recall that town as being the source of some refreshment and I do remember the incidents to which you refer. But, of course, I never actually imbibed myself."

Of course not.

The year was 1982. The White House was such an accessible place back then, they even let in reporters like me.

Sitting there in the Oval Office is something you don't easily forget.

It is huge, cold, with ceilings so high it's an echo-chamber, and it also is far too formal and ornate for a newspaper interview.

In that office, you're ill at ease even putting down your coffee cup.

I mean, what if you spill? The table was put there by Andrew Jackson.

But Reagan seemed most at home in there, especially when asked questions about his Central Illinois roots, which, despite all his incredible life successes, he never forgot.

You'd lob him a question about his upbringing in places like Dixon and Eureka, or once dating a Bloomington girl, or playing football in games refereed by Fred Young, the then-sports editor of this paper, and the instant the question was out, it was as if someone had screamed, "Action!" just like back in his days of Hollywood.

Reagan was so into his own stage play that - oh, sure - he brought down the Berlin Wall and freed the world, but far more entertaining for him, it seemed, was reliving his only collegiate touchdown, scored back in 1931 in Normal.

He was so proud of it, he arose in the Oval Office to graphically relive it, lowering himself to the Oval Office floor, showing how he picked up an ISNU fumble, then lurched up to recreate a frantic romp to the end zone.

"He was an all-men-are-created-equal kind of guy," says Sam Harrod III, of Eureka, whose father was a close pal and fraternity brother of Reagan's. "I remember the story of Franklin "Burgy" Burghardt. He played tackle on the Eureka College team, alongside ‘Dutch' (Reagan). Burgy was black and the rest of the team was white and after one out-of-town game, the team went to an inn where the owner saw Burgy and said, ‘I don't allow Negroes!' That's when Reagan turned to the team and said, ‘Come on, guys, we'll all stay at my house.' And they drove on to Dixon."

Yes, if Ronald Reagan is somehow watching all the retrospectives being shown today, you get the idea he'd also not deny the source of his life's drive.

It was here, in Central Illinois.

Bill Flick is at flick@pantagraph.com.

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