Remarks During a Homecoming and Birthday Celebration in Dixon, Illinois

February 6, 1984

Thank you for those very generous words. And I can't help but digress, being bathed in nostalgia as I am. That line back there that you just read, actually, I have to tell you how that came about.

I was in England making a picture called ``The Hasty Heart.'' It was a story in which we were all in a field hospital in Burma -- India in World War II, and talking about things like home. And the line in the script from -- it was a famous Broadway play -- had me saying that everybody has a place to go back to and for me it's Boston. Well, after almost 4 months of an English winter, I was so homesick.

Now, the funny thing is, I'd lived a great many years away from Dixon by that time, in California. But I found myself saying to the director, ``I would like to change the line.'' And I changed the line -- ``Dixon, place on the Rock River.'' Some of the people in the publicity department were a little upset about that, because Boston's bigger than Dixon. [Laughter] But, anyway, the line went in the picture that way.

Now, Nancy and I have been looking forward to this day for a long time, and your warm welcome, believe me, touches our hearts. And before I say anything else, let me express my sincere thanks to everyone who made this terrific day possible.

Mayor Jim Dixon, Governor Jim Thompson, Senator Chuck Percy, Congresswoman Lynn Martin, distinguished guests, and may I add with great pride and pleasure, my fellow Dixonians, it's great to be back home. And, you know, if our old house on Hennepin Avenue looked as good in 1924 as it does now -- [laughter] -- I might never have left.

Incidentally, Moon and I -- his name is Neil, but Moon since he was here in Dixon -- we've been asking everyone on this committee connected with that house undertaking up there one thing, though, that has fooled us. How did they shrink it? [Laughter] We remembered it as much bigger.

But anyway, my heart is still here. I know his is, and it always will be.

Birthdays are special moments, and you've given me one today. But I must tell you, even though this is the 34th anniversary of my 39th birthday -- [laughter] -- those numbers don't faze me at all. I believe Moses was 80 when God first commissioned him for public service. [Laughter] And I also remember something that Thomas Jefferson once said. He said, ``We should never judge a President by his age, only by his works.'' And ever since he told me that -- [laughter] -- I've stopped worrying. There are those who say I've stopped working. [Laughter]

But back in 1951, another Illinois native returned to his hometown for a short visit. Carl Sandburg was also 73 years old when he spent a day on his cousin's farm in Galesburg, just about a hundred miles or so down the road from here.

And later, he reflected on America's future. He thought about the three wars and the two depressions that he had lived through. He reminisced about the pain and the suffering he'd seen on so many faces. But Carl Sandburg didn't forecast a dark future for America. When he came back to the prairies of Illinois he felt the spirit of a strong and worthy people, and that made him an optimist. He said, ``I see great days ahead . . .'' for ``men and women of will and vision.'' And then he tipped his hat as a way of offering his favorite toast: ``To the storms to come and the stars coming after the storms.''

Carl Sandburg understood that our greatest strength is not bullets or balance sheets, but the mighty spirit of a free people under God. And our spirit has never waned. The heart of America is strong, it's good, and it's true. We look forward to the future. We know we were never meant to be second best, and we never will be.

Like Carl Sandburg, I also remember those depression years. Times were tough. But what I remember most clearly is that Dixon held together. Our faith was our strength. Our teachers pointed to the future. People held on to their hopes and dreams. Neighbors helped neighbors. We knew -- my brother, Moon, and I, our mother and father, Nelle and Jack, saw to that -- saw that we knew we would overcome adversity and that after the storm, the stars would come.

Dixon has changed a lot since then. But in many ways, it hasn't changed at all. And I'm not talking about Lowell Park or St. Luke's or the Memorial Arch. What I'm really referring to are the values and traditions that made America great.

Our values bring us together as a nation. They help us go just as far as our God-given talents will take us. Americans are the most charitable people in the world. We reach out to the needy. We're a nation of volunteers. We seek community service. It's so easy to have faith in America. I know of the volunteer effort that it's taken from so many to bring about not only this day but the restoration of that house. And it's so easy to have faith in America.

When you're talking about the character of America, you're also talking about the small business community, about the owners of that store down the street, the faithful who support their churches and their civic organizations, all the brave men and women with faith to invest in the future to build a better America.

Only when individuals are given a personal stake in deciding their own destiny, in benefiting from their own risks, do societies prosper, grow, and remain free. To those who would stifle personal initiative through more and more government, I ask them to read the Constitution. As a matter of fact, just read the first three words. It says, ``We the People.'' It doesn't say, ``We the Government.''

It's everyday people with big ideas that count -- people like Father John Dixon, who arrived here in 1830 with his wife, five children, and a dream. His ferry service provided the only means of crossing the Rock River for travelers to Galena coming from Peoria, Fort Dearborn, and Fort Armstrong. But he didn't stop there. Through his efforts, he lived to see Dixon's Ferry become the county seat and a thriving community of 8,000, and now you've doubled that.

You know, I must say, that if Father Dixon had to fill out environmental impact statements, report to regulatory agencies in Washington, or wait for an area redevelopment plan, Dixon would probably still be known as Dixon's Ferry. [Laughter] And our town might never have seen people like John Deere and the Walgreens, people with ingenuity, audacity, and vision.

That's why we're working so hard to limit the size and the scope of the Federal Government. We've already reduced the growth of Federal regulations by more than 25 percent. We've cut well over 300 million man-hours of government-required paperwork that was laid on the people each year. And we're going to reduce it even more. We just want to give today's pioneers the same chance that Father Dixon had.

And there's something else. When you stop to think, it's easy to understand why America's back on her feet and moving forward with confidence. Our rebirth began right here, in our homes, schools, churches, and neighborhoods. From the grocery store to the football field, from the service clubs to the Chamber of Commerce, America has recaptured her drive, energy, and determination.

There's a new spirit of community building. You can feel it everywhere. We see so many acts of courage and downright heroism -- like an 11-year-old in Hampton, Virginia, who was seriously burned recently while rescuing his elderly neighbor from a serious house fire. I talked to him -- Tim Diakis -- 11 years old. He'll be out of the hospital in a few weeks, and he's going to be okay. It'll take a number of operations because of his severe burns. And now his community is chipping in to help cover the cost of his hospitalization.

And you showed how much you care in Dixon when you raised $37,000 for special medical care needed by young Jason Hinericks. God bless you, Jason.

Well, this community spirit responds to our desire for cooperation and brotherhood, and it makes our hometown a better place to live. If anybody wants to know about community and what community is all about, come to Lee County and Dixon, Illinois.

Come take a look at the Hometown Heritage Foundation, a community alumni organization dedicated to future development of the local area. By working together -- individuals, businesses, civic organizations, and local government -- Dixon is building a brighter future.

So, you see, the reason I came home today was not to celebrate my birthday, but to celebrate Dixon and America. Honor, integrity, and kindness do exist all across our land. There is a zest for life and laughter.

Another Illini, Adlai Stevenson, kind of put it all together when he said, ``America is much more than a geographical fact. It is a political and moral fact -- the first community in which men set out in principle to institutionalize freedom, responsible government, and human equality.'' And that's what we're really celebrating today.

And all I can say, again, to all of you is God bless you; thank you very much. And God bless America.

Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the Dixon High School gymnasium. He was introduced by Dean Harrison, cochairman of the Hometown Coordinating Committee.

Earlier, after arriving in Dixon, the President and his brother, Neil, and their wives toured and lunched at one of the homes the Reagan family had lived in during the President's boyhood. The home had been renovated by the Ronald Reagan Home Restoration Foundation. They then viewed a homecoming parade from the Nachusa House Hotel.

Following his remarks to the citizens of Dixon, the President met at the high school with a small group of local residents.