Remarks at the Eureka College Alumni Association Dinner in Illinois
Well, I thank just everybody. I've cleaned up—a Golden E pin, a plaque, a bust in my honor, being in the Eureka Athletic Hall of Fame. I thought I had reached the pinnacle when the 1931 Prism said that as president of the Booster Club I received commendation for my part in managing the committees in charge of the homecoming festivities. [Laughter] You don't know how much I wish I could remember what I did. [Laughter] There are a few committees on Capitol Hill that need some managing right now. [Laughter]
But, Mac,1 this—if we could have gotten this many people to a football game on a Saturday afternoon, we wouldn't have had to wear the same pants 2 or 3 years. [Laughter] We could have had you new uniforms. But I'm not quite sure whether I got this for 3 years as guard or for making some touchdowns for Notre Dame at Warner Brothers. [Laughter]
I was interviewed just the other day before I came out here by a reporter from the Bloomington Pantagraph, who came up and wanted to talk all about memories, Illinois here and Eureka College and all. And then he said, "Well now, there's a story going around about you scoring a touchdown against Normal in the last minutes of play." And that just goes to show you how stories can get stretched. [Laughter] I can tell you about that touchdown.
We were one point ahead, as I remember. And there was just seconds to go. I'd been in the entire game, and Normal was passing, throwing bombs all over. And I finally decided because—you remember that no one in our backfield was over about five nine or -ten in those days, so our pass defense wasn't all it should be if anyone on the other side was taller than they were. So, I used to charge against my man and then when I felt it was going to be a pass, duck back into the secondary and see if I could help cover for passes.
And I saw everyone sucked over to one side of the field, and this Normal fellow-never forget that bright red jersey—going down the field all by himself. And I took out after him. And pretty soon, as he was looking back, I knew the ball must be coming. And I turned around and here it came, and I went up in the air, I got it, but by this time, as I say, having been in the entire game, I knew that there wasn't anything left in me. There was a lineman's dream, a guard way over on the sideline, about 75 yards from the goal line but a clear field down that sideline. But coming down with the ball, I thought if I just juggle it for a second or two, he'll tackle me. We still win the ball game, and I won't have to run. [Laughter]
Well, I juggled it and I bent over, and I juggled it some more and nothing happened. [Laughter] And just as I started to raise my head, he put his arms around me and said, "Tag, you're it." [Laughter]
At the same moment, I saw a substitute coming in for me, I knew. And I started for the sideline, and one Ralph McKenzie, very serious of face—indeed, angry of face—said, "What happened to you?" And all I could say was, "I'm tired." [Laughter] But that—I told the reporter—that was my touchdown that was never made, my lineman's dream.
You know, one thing I've stopped talking about is that—receiving Eureka's centennial citation in 1955. Too many people began to think it was my centennial. [Laughter]
But I've spent the day in a warm flood of nostalgia, as I'm sure a great many of you have. You must be feeling the same way. Eureka is in all our hearts. And it gave me the greatest happiness today to be on the campus and to see today's students and to see that that same spirit and that same love is there among them every bit as great as it has been among us. They'll carry the memory of days at Eureka as abundantly and warm as we have carried them.
I got a letter a few months ago from Mrs. Lee Putnam, Class of '50. Lee, are you here some place? There. Hey, you don't mind if I let them in on your letter. Lee is the daughter of Professor Tom Wiggins, our English professor that so many of us remember so well. And she wrote me this letter about some of the memories that she had of her recollections of the 1930's at Eureka. Well, if she was the Class of '50, she had to be pretty young in the 1930's. But she said they're vivid—"faculty teas before the fireplace; Daddy reading; Mother playing the piano; blue books being graded; having Carl Sandburg as an overnight guest; and eating canned salmon, spinach, and baked beans night after night. [Laughter] The college had an arrangement with the Happy Hour Canning Factory in Bloomington which allowed us to order canned goods, since no salaries were paid during that time." And that's right.
"We also received dairy products from the college farm run by Frank Felter. I was too young to be aware then, but the entire community must have pitched in to save Eureka College." And that is what happened.
Day after day in those classrooms, those professors just as if they were getting paid on time—I've thought about that sometimes when I see some teachers' strikes lately. But I believe that that spirit is still at Eureka-in the town, the faculty, and the students.
And, Lee, I have to tell you a memory that I have of your father—God bless him. It seems that the late Bud Cole—God rest his soul—and I were declared ineligible if we did not take a makeup exam, and it was the day before the homecoming game. So, we went over to the gym that afternoon, and we got into our football uniforms. And then we went up in the Burgess Hall to the classroom where your father was there. And he gave us each two questions and said, "Take your choice of one." And he said, "I'll be in the Administration Building if you need me." And we finished the exam in quick time and went out to the field, convinced that we had passed the exam—and we had—and were able to play the next day in the game. That spirit of Eureka lasts not only 4 years but a lifetime, and that's why there are so many of you gathered here this evening.
And by the way, I want to thank Lee for writing. I don't know quite what to make of this, but later in the letter she writes, "My sister Barbara Cooper is a sergeant in Burbank, California, Police Department and has met you." [Laughter] Wait till the press gets hold of that. [Laughter]
But I can't tell you how wonderful it has been. The only fly in the ointment—the thing that's really wrong is that today is over, and now we turn back into pumpkins again because we can't even stay for dinner. This is the first time I've been a before-dinner speaker—been an afterdinner speaker many times. But we have to go out and get in that airplane and be on our way. So, we have to leave. But to be here among you again—everyone in Washington that's in government should have to, at regular intervals, have this kind of an experience, because there is a real difference between the real world and what's on the other side of the Potomac.
So, from one Red Devil to all the others- [laughter] —hail to maroon and gold, and hail to our alma mater, and I think all of us should pledge in our hearts that it will be there long after we're gone doing for young people what it did for all of us.
God bless you, and I wish we could stay and say hello to everyone of you. It's been a very thrilling and exciting time for us. And I leave greatly rewarded.
I have one little story I just want to tell before I go. [Laughter] I'm having a hard time getting away from here. For my graduation speech, we had decided in Washington that I should make a speech on the world situation and our plans for attempting disarmament, reduction of nuclear weapons and so forth. And they were talking about what would be a proper forum in which to make this speech before I go to Europe at the end of this month to meet with our allies and all. And, I said, "I have the perfect forum: I am making a speech in Illinois." And I reminded them of Winnie Churchill making a speech at a little college in Missouri some years ago in which he coined the term "Iron Curtain."
So, I said we'll make the speech there. But to those who were there today, I told them of a little story that illustrates the humor of the Russian people and their cynicism about their way of life and their government. And I had to choose between two. So, I won't repeat the one that I told there today— [laughter] —but the one I wanted to tell and didn't—and this is truly—the jokes—I've come to be a collector of these that the Russian people tell among themselves that reveals their feeling about their government.
And it has to do with when Brezhnev first became President. And he invited his elderly mother to come up and see his suite of offices in the Kremlin and then put her in his limousine and drove her to his fabulous apartment there in Moscow. And in both places, not a word. She looked; she said nothing. Then he put her in his helicopter and took her out to the country home outside Moscow in a forest. And, again, not a word. Finally, he put her in his private jet and down to the shores of the Black Sea to see that marble palace which is known as his beach home. And finally she spoke. She said, "Leonid, what if the Communists find out? [Laughter]
We love you. We envy you for being able to stay, and God bless all of you.
1 William McNett, president of the Eureka College Alumni Association.
Note: The President spoke at 6:36 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Continental Regency Hotel. Prior to his appearance at the dinner, he attended a reception for the Eureka College Class of '32 Golden Class Reunion at the hotel.
Following his remarks, the President traveled to Chicago, Ill., where he stayed overnight.
Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Eureka College Alumni Association Dinner in Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/245667