Monday, April 03, 2006

Monday Memories

Did I ever tell you that my Dad played football against the Gipper?

Not really, he played against Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, who played George Gipp in the movie "Knute Rockne, All American." Win one for the Gipper became part of our language and Reagan used it also in politics. In addition to politics, President Reagan's career included lifeguard, broadcaster, movies and television, and motivational speaking, but during college he really did play football.

Reagan's boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois on the Rock River and my Dad's home in Pine Creek were just a few miles apart but in different counties. However, Dutch and Cub met through a mutual acquaintance when they were still in their teens. Dad was a poor farm boy about 16 and a senior in high school at Polo, IL. Reagan, who was two years older, was already attending Eureka College. A neighboring farmer thought Dad had potential because he'd seen how industrious he was (water boy for thrashers, selling cans of salve he'd ordered from a magazine advertisement, laboring in the fields with his farmer father). The neighbor knew the Reagan family from The Christian Church, so he arranged for Dad to meet Ron, thinking he might interest him in attending Eureka. Dad also had an offer of a small scholarship from the Polo Women's Club to attend the University of Illinois. I'm not sure what happened (a blind date with my mother, I think), but Dad ended up at Mt. Morris College with some financial help to play football.

Mt. Morris College slaughtered Eureka on November 15, 1930, 21 to zip, a story Dad enjoyed retelling when Reagan became famous (although Dad was a Republican, I sensed that he was not crazy about Reagan). To my knowledge, there are no photos of Dad and Reagan butting heads or tackling each other, but I like to think they are somewhere in the jumble of arms and legs in this photo with farm buildings in the background. Say, is that my mother over there on the sidelines, cheering on the team?

My mother was an excellent student who really wanted an education--both of her parents had also attended Mt. Morris College in the 1890s. Dad was smart, but I suspect he was there to have a good time and play football. There was a disastrous fire on Easter Sunday 1931 when most of the students were home on holiday. Although the college reopened for the 1931-32 school year, my mother's family couldn't afford the tuition so she went to work in Chicago as a domestic. Dad returned to school with a football scholarship--at least in the fall. In the 1931 final game with Eureka College, the score was 0-0. The college yearbook says Dad didn't play the last four games due to a heart problem.

President Reagan visited his alma mater often, 12 times between 1941 and 1992. Eureka College is still educating young people, but Mt. Morris College closed after almost 100 years when the class of 1932 graduated. Except for his time in the Marines during WWII, Dad lived in Mt. Morris the rest of his life.

Dad, 1930, 17 years old

Lazy Daisy,
Yellow Rose,

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Lazy Daisy said...

Wow, what a wonderful story Norma. You always fasicinate me. My MM is up.

YellowRose said...

Very interesting memory! Love that picture of your dad...very handsome man!

My MM is up!

Unknown said...

What an honor for your Dad to have played football with a future president, and beat him too! Great story Norma.

Trying to Catch Up: Monday Memories

Katherine said...

Great story! I also love that last pic of your dad - very cool.

Libragirl said...

That is so awesome. To play ball with a future pres...who knew then.

monica said...

I love your stories, as always. :)a

Shelli said...

That is really cool! I love history that you can connect with. Well really I just love history!

Kimmy said...

What an awesome memory! I love how you shared it.

I love the pictures. Adds so much to the story!

My MM is now up...

MaR said...

Great story, wonderfully told! it is so good that you have pics too!

Anonymous said...


You probably didn't know that Ronald Reagan was a fraternity brother of mine. Well, he was a member of the Teke Chapter at Eureka. He was a very supportive Teke alumnus and did visit my Chapter at Ohio State when he was President, which was a nice PR coup for them. I didn't realize Mt. Morris had a college, but then found out why when you pointed out it closed in the 30's. I'll have to ask my Mt. Morris relatives what they know about it, if anything.