EUREKA — Eureka College paid tribute to Ronald Reagan on his 103rd birthday by announcing it has received a $1 million bequest from the estate of his brother and sister-in-law, J. Neil and Bess Reagan.
The announcement Thursday also fell on the 159th anniversary of the founding in 1855 of the college that became the alma mater of the Reagan brothers.
The gift will support the college’s endowment, which funds scholarships for students.
Neil Reagan died in 1996 at age 88, and his wife died in 2010 at age 102.
"Just in recent weeks the estate was fully settled and we thought it would be appropriate to share the news with the world on the founding day of the college and the birthday of Neil's youngest brother, whom the world knows as the 40th president of the United States," said John Morris, director of the Ronald W. Reagan Society of Eureka College.
More than 100 objects and photographs from their collection were also given to Eureka College and are part of the Mark R. Shenkman Reagan Research Center and Archives in Melick Library.
"The gift from Neil and Bess Reagan is a testament to the important and enduring relationship between the Reagan family and Eureka College,” Eureka College President J. David Arnold said in a news release. “Their love for and generosity towards Neil’s alma mater will allow the couple’s legacy to continue helping future generations experience the same learning, service and leadership opportunities that Neil and Ronald experienced here.”
There were only two siblings in the Reagan household, and both graduated from Eureka with a joint major of economics-sociology — Ronald Reagan in 1932 and Neil Reagan in 1933.
Both were members of Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity and played football for the college.
Like his brother, Neil Reagan moved to California. Neil Reagan had a career in advertising and marketing, including being a senior producer for CBS and senior vice president of advertising giant McCann-Erickson.
Both Ronald and Neil Reagan served on the college's board of trustees and were lifelong donors, "and they believed the college had changed the course of their lives and had given them opportunity," Morris said.
The Reagan museum housed in the college's Donald B. Cerf Center displays more than 2,000 items from Ronald Reagan's years at Eureka, as an actor and in politics.