Remarks at a Ronald W. Reagan Scholarship Fundraising Dinner for Eureka College

 

September 23, 1986

 

The President. Thank you, President George Hearn, the president of Eureka, and thank you, everyone here tonight and all of you who are doing so much. We're here for something that Nancy and I hold close to our hearts -- Eureka's Reagan scholarships. And please forgive me if I reminisce for a few moments, because you could just be bathed in warm nostalgia. [Laughter]

 

Whenever I think of Eureka, I am filled with nostalgia for that campus 'neath the elms. It had a slogan for many years of being a small school with a worldwide influence. And something about that school doesn't seem to leave you at all. Everything good that has happened to me in the years since had its beginning there, as well as for so many others. It was a wonderful time in my life that wasn't all taken up on the football field, although I did let football and other extracurricular activities eat into my study time. And as a result, my grade average was closer to the C level required for eligibility -- [laughter] -- than it was to straight A's. I think someone told me, to my surprise, that I wound up with a B-minus. So, when I got that honorary degree that Eureka gave me some years ago -- [laughter] -- I told the audience that it only amplified a sense of shame that I had felt for many years, because I always had had the sneaking suspicion that that first degree they gave me was honorary. [Laughter]

 

I learned a lot at Eureka, and not just about economics, which was my major. I think the principal thing I learned about economics as a major was that if you could place all the economists end to end, they'd never reach a conclusion. [Laughter] That's a lesson that serves me well in my current occupation as an embarrasser of economists.

 

As I said, I learned a lot at Eureka. I learned, for example, about humility. Now, that happens when you've been one of at least a number of football heroes in high school, and suddenly you find yourself sitting on the bench as second or third string. And as with my economic lessons, I've had opportunities to learn a little more about humility every once in awhile since. I remember after I'd made about 50 feature motion pictures and was doing a series on television that lasted 8 years, I was walking down Fifth Avenue in New York one day, and about 30 feet ahead of me a man coming my way stopped, and he pointed, and he yelled, ``I know you! I see you all the time on that screen and on that television!'' And everybody on the street stopped, and they formed kind of two lines, and he stalked me down the center. [Laughter] And I'm at one end, and here he comes, and he's fumbling in his pocket all the time and talking about me and how much he knows -- what I've done and everything else. And he gets to me and pulls out a pen and a piece of paper for an autograph and says, ``Ray Milland.'' [Laughter] So, I signed, Ray Milland. There was no sense in disappointing him. [Laughter]

 

But one thing I'll always cherish about Eureka besides lessons in football and humility is that the college took a chance on me. Now, my family couldn't pay for the schooling. We didn't live on the wrong side of the tracks, but we lived close enough that we could hear the whistles. [Laughter] But what I couldn't earn in summers -- and I did work every summer and saved every dollar that I earned in order to help -- why, the college made up with a scholarship, jobs, and, yes, letting me defer part of my tuition until after graduation. And I wasn't alone in that. They did that for a number of other students. And this was in the depths of the Great Depression. And incidentally, one of those jobs -- washing dishes -- was one of the better jobs I've ever had. [Laughter] I performed it in a girls dormitory. [Laughter]

 

But seriously, in that time of such great strain -- and when you can imagine what happened to the endowment of a small college like that in that great crash and the Great Depression, and you went to class every day and knew that the professors who were teaching you, and without any grumble or complaint, had not been paid for weeks and weeks and weeks -- and that the townspeople and the merchants and the grocers and so forth carried them on the books -- just with the knowledge that somehow things would turn out all right. Those were Depression years, and I'm so happy about the scholarship program that you've done me the honor of giving in my name. It gives the students the opportunity to work for their schooling, and it also gives them something else I was lucky enough to have -- a mentor. That's a part of the program -- someone who will take an interest in them and their future.

 

Now, in my case it was a fellow from Kansas City named Sid Aultschuler. Sid was a businessman there. And my summer job for 7 years -- part in high school and then through college -- was at a beach, a river beach on the beautiful Rock River in a natural forest park called Lowell Park, named for James Russell Lowell, whose family had given it to the city. And there was a lodge there, and people would come out from the cities, like Kansas City and Chicago and so forth, with their families. And it was one of those things -- I don't know whether it still goes on today -- in which they had come there with their parents as children, and now they came as parents with their children. And I'd teach their kids to swim.

 

And finally, I was there for that last summer after I'd graduated, because I had to get enough money to try to go out and find a job -- 1932, the lowest year of the Great Depression. And many of those men during the summers had said to me that when I got out of college, come see them. And I had sort of relied on that. But by 1932 many of those weren't coming back to the lodge anymore. They had their own problems, and they weren't saying that anymore. But Sid Aultschuler was there, and I taught his two small daughters to swim that same summer. And then Sid, out of all them, said to me: ``If you can tell me what you really want to do and what you want to get into,'' he said, ``I think I have some connections that, if it touches on any of those, that I can help, even in these hard times.'' But he said, ``You're going to have to tell me what you want to do.'' Well, there I was with my degree in economics, a graduate with a bachelor of arts degree, and it hadn't occurred to me really what I wanted to do or anything except get a job of some kind or other. It was those kind of times. But he had laid it on me.

 

And I finally went home, and I laid awake half the night. And finally, it dawned on me that some of my extracurricular activities, in addition to football, had rubbed off -- playing Captain Stanhope in ``Journey's End'' in the drama class play of the year, going out with the glee club, and doing comedy routines -- I didn't sing, I talked. [Laughter] But in a little town in Illinois back in the thirties, you didn't go out and say, ``I want to be an actor.'' Well, anyway, I went to him, and I said, ``I think I can tell you what it is. I would like to be in the world of entertainment.'' And then, knowing that radio might be the shortcut to anything else, I said, ``I'd like to get into radio. I think I could be a sports announcer.''

 

Well, I'd named something in which he had no connections at all. [Laughter] But Sid gave me the greatest advice in the world, and all you young people who are listening, pay attention to your mentors. He said, ``Maybe it's just as well that I don't have any connections, because,'' he said, ``if I got you a job someplace, the man giving you the job wouldn't be interested in you. He'd be giving you the job because of me.'' He said, ``Everyplace there are people that know that this isn't going to last forever, this Depression. They are going to know that their future depends on getting young people into their business.'' So, he said, ``What you should do is just start going to radio stations. You needn't tell them whether you want to be a sports announcer. Just tell them that you believe in the future of that business, and you'll take any job in order to get inside of radio, and then take your chances from there.''

 

Well, I did that. It meant hitchhiking, and I figured that if I started at the top, at the big stations in Chicago and the networks, that wherever I got a job might be further up the line than if I started at the bottom. Well, I don't know how many stations I went to. But he told me that someplace along the line I would meet a man of this kind. And he said, ``Remember, a salesman may have to make 200 calls before he makes a sale.'' And I wound up down in the Quad Cities, Iowa and Illinois. A wonderful old Scotchman who'd played a role in my life told me that they had just hired an announcer the day before I got there. Where was I? Why didn't I know about this? I didn't tell him I didn't listen to his station. [Laughter]

 

But on the way out, I said to myself, ``How does a guy get to be a sports announcer if he can't get a job in a radio station?'' And I went down to the elevator, which fortunately wasn't there, and I heard a clumping. Pete McArther was crippled up with arthritis, on two canes, and he was coming down the hall, and he was calling in a very profane way for that big SOB to stop and wait. So, I waited for him, and he came up, and he said, ``What's that you said about sports?'' And I said, ``Well, I think I'd like to do that and that I could do that.'' He said, ``Could you tell me about a football game and make me see it if I'm sitting at home listening to my radio?'' And I said, ``I think so.''

 

He took me in the studio, stood me in front of a microphone, and he said: ``When the red light goes on, you'll be alone here. I'll be in another room listening. You start broadcasting an imaginary football game.'' [Laughter] Well, I remembered a game that we had won in the last 20 seconds with a 65-yard touchdown. The key to the play, an off-tackle smash, was for the right guard running interference to take out the first man in the secondary in order to let our man break loose. In the game I missed my block -- [laughter] -- but our man made the touchdown. I replayed that fourth quarter for him, and in the replay, I nailed that fellow with a -- [inaudible]. [Laughter]

 

Now, I was right about one thing. Deep in my heart it was always acting I really wanted, and I thought that radio would be a quick jump for that, and it turned out to be. There are some in Washington who wish I'd jumped in the river instead. [Laughter] That wouldn't have helped them, because I was the lifeguard -- that's what my job was. [Laughter]

 

Well, Sid Aultschuler isn't here, but two mentors for those scholars are -- Al Haig and Selwa Roosevelt. And I just want to say thanks to them, and let me also say thanks to someone who isn't a part of the mentor program, but who I know has taken a special interest in one of our scholars -- Strom Thurmond. This young man who's here is an intern in Strom's office. And I thank all of you, and the kind of generosity that you're showing this evening is the kind that built not just Eureka College but America itself.

 

And could I just take a minute, because maybe some of you who are being so kind don't know very much about that little school out there on the prairie. Well, in the first place, it is the oldest coeducational college west of the Alleghenies. And it was started by some people who arrived there in that part of Illinois in a wagon train from the East. And a man named Ben Major, whose family still lives there in the college town, his descendants, decided that this is where they would stay. He was the leader. He sank an ax in a stump, and he said, ``Here's where we will build our school.'' And they built their school before they built their homes. And it became Walnut Grove Academy. And then, when it graduated above that, it became Eureka College. But this little school, so rich with tradition and that has contributed so much, and people like myself who went there -- you were never too poor, but what, if they could, they could make it possible for you to get that education.

 

There used to be a giant elm, which finally has given up, outside of one of the buildings called Burgess. It was called recruiting elm, outside of Burgess Hall, because Captain Burgess in the Civil War stood down beneath that tree and called up to the classrooms of the one building at that time of the college for the young men to come down and enlist in the Union Army. Now, it isn't true that I was one of the young men there. [Laughter]

 

But as I say, tradition that is so rich, and as you've been told, the wonderful thing about a small liberal arts college of that kind is not only that you get a good education, but you can't hide. You can't just go to class and back to your quarters again as you could in some of the great universities. I've been a regent of the 9-campus University of California, by way of being Governor. I was a member of the board of the 23-college, State college system of California. As a sports announcer I saw the inside of a great many of the great universities.

 

If I had it to do over again, I would go to Eureka College. It means that much, and I think it meant that much to me. You can't hide. Everybody is needed, whether it's for glee club or student officers or athletics or whatever it may be. They grab you, and they bring you in, and you find out talents and abilities that you never knew you had.

 

So, I just want you to know how deeply grateful I am and that what you have done and what you are doing for this institution is for something that is very worthwhile. And maybe there aren't as many of them left in the country as there should be, but I pray to God there will always be a Eureka College, there in the heart of Illinois.

 

Thank you all very much. God bless you all.

 

Mr. Pfautch. I have two very brief presentations. Mr. President, I did not go to Eureka College, and I have long lost a sense of priorities. May I present the spouse of our honorary cochairman and the Chief of Staff, the Honorable Donald Regan -- who, by the way, is a distinguished Harvard alumnus.

 

And now a special presentation by the president of the student body of Eureka College, who is also a Reagan scholar, and he is Mr. Rodney Gould. Will you welcome him?

 

Mr. Gould. Mrs. Reagan, Mr. President, just one thing before I get started. I've been asked to remind everyone to please stand after this presentation and join the Eureka College madrigal singers in our alma mater, ``'Neath the Elms.''

 

There is also another thing that I'd like to say. Three years ago we met the President in the White House, in 1983. And at that time we were all clustered around the President and Mrs. Reagan. And I said to Mrs. Reagan then, I said, ``Thanks for what you have done in the fight against drugs, because there could be a lot of people here right now, a lot of people in college on scholarships if it wasn't for drugs.'' This lady hasn't jumped on the bandwagon; she's been a bandwagon. I just want to thank Mrs. Reagan.

 

As you could tell, the President loves Eureka College. We love him there. He has been a supporter, not since he has been in office but ever since he graduated. He came back and was the honorary chairman of pumpkin parades. [Laughter] When we needed a new library in 1969, we called President Reagan. When we needed a new physical education center, we asked Mr. Reagan. He has been there for us as a recruiter, contributor, confidante, board of trustee member for two terms. And as a student, it is correct, he was student body president, also. He was a swim team member. He won national honor for a play, ``Aria Da Capo.''

 

The President. ``Aria Da Capo.''

 

Mr. Gould. He won a national honor for his role presentation there. He was also on the football team. He was a big part of Eureka College then. He still is. But when he graduated, he never received a class ring. So, on behalf of the students of Eureka College, the alumni of Eureka College, and also the Ronald W. Reagan scholars, Mr. President, I'd like to present you with this 1932 class ring.

 

The President asked me to remind you that his school colors are maroon and gold, and thank you.

 

Now, if we all rise and join in singing of ``'Neath the Elms Upon the Campus.''

 

The President.  --  -- would you like to say something? An after dinner speaker gets an encore? [Laughter]

 

No, you have just heard it, the alma mater there. And, again, I can only just say, I'm so grateful to all of you. See, I couldn't afford one in 1932. [Laughter] But another tradition that I don't know whether it exists today -- and then I will quit -- is: Nancy has my letter sweater.

 

Thank you all, again. God bless you all.

 

Note: The President spoke at 8:18 p.m. at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. Roy Pfautch was a donor to the scholarship fund; and Rodney T. Gould, a Reagan scholarship recipient, was the student body president. Prior to his remarks, the President attended a fundraising reception at the hotel.