- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 30, 2011

SIMI  VALLEY, Calif. | Ronald Reagan loved birthdays. He kept a chocolate cake aboard Air Force One at all times just in case someone on the flight happened to be celebrating another year.

Don’t believe it? There’s a replica of the cake inside the Boeing 707 that served as Reagan’s airborne White House during his eight-year term, which is now retired and parked here inside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The Great Communicator would have been 100 years old on Feb. 6, and those at the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Library here plan to do a bit more than fire up another candle. They have launched a yearlong, worldwide celebration that reaches its apex this week with an examination of his legacy, a series of tributes, a concert and a graveside memorial.

After the visiting dignitaries have left, the library will throw open its doors to the public Monday for a birthday celebration that includes a tour of the renovated museum, a dinner and, of course, a birthday cake in honor of “the 61st anniversary of President Reagan’s 39th birthday,” as the invitations put it.

The drumroll started over the weekend as new conservative members of Congress arrived for a retreat, sponsored by the Heritage Foundation, and were treated to a sneak peek at the museum renovation.

The library also invited Republican House members who were elected along with Reagan in 1980 as part of the so-called “Reagan tide.” Only one of those, Rep. David Dreier of California, remains in the House.

Steve Forbes, who served as Board for International Broadcasting chairman during the Reagan presidency, spoke at a forum Friday about the similarities between the current economic situation and the one that Reagan inherited.

In 1980, he said, the country was mired in a financial rut characterized by stagflation, high unemployment and a lack of confidence in the economy. The Reagan recipe of lower taxes and spending cuts worked, and “we can do it again,” Mr. Forbes said.

“As Ronald Reagan understood, times and circumstances change, but the principles of freedom and economic growth do not change, and that’s a Reagan centennial worth celebrating,” Mr. Forbes said.

At a Federalist Society event Saturday, keynote speaker Hugh Hewitt talked about Reagan’s contribution to the judiciary through the appointment of young lawyers to posts in his administration. One of those, John G. Roberts Jr., is now chief justice of the United States.

“Extraordinary legal talent served under President Reagan,” said Mr. Hewitt, a radio talk-show host and law professor at Chapman University law school.

Elsewhere, the memorial site was blocked off as construction crews worked to install a platform and tent on the hillside.

The platform will be the site of a panel discussion Wednesday on “Biography and the Construction of the Presidential Legacy,” which will be hosted by former NBC anchorman Tom Brokaw and feature Reagan writers Peggy Noonan, Lou Cannon and Douglas Brinkley, as well as former California Gov. Pete Wilson.

The Beach Boys, Lonestar and Lee Greenwood will perform Saturday at a birthday concert. Mr. Reagan’s actual birthday falls on Super Bowl Sunday, but library guests instead will see Reagan administration Secretary of State James A. Baker III deliver the centennial address.

A wreath will be laid at the former president’s grave, which sits on the library property. Mr. Reagan died in 2004 from complications from Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 93.

John Heubusch, the library’s executive director, noted that private donors picked up the entire tab for the centennial celebration. The largest contribution was the $15 million from General Electric, for whom Reagan worked as a commercial pitchman in his career before politics.

The only incongruity over the weekend was the sight of construction workers erecting an enormous tent for the ceremonies, even though weather was picture-perfect, sunny and warm with a slight breeze.

Why the tent? “It’s been raining here for weeks, so I said we’ve got to have the tent,” Mr. Heubusch said. “You never know.”

As President Reagan liked to say, “Trust but verify.”