- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

Americans were saddened and caught off guard to learn of former President Ronald Reagan’s death yesterday despite his age and long struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.

In Tampico, Ill., Mr. Reagan’s hometown, patrons at the Dutch Diner were “a little surprised” to learn of his demise, said Tressa Card, the 28-year-old daughter of the owners.

“It’s a sad day,” she said. “I think everyone is sad. He was a good president and a good man, and we feel bad for his wife and wish his family the best.

“He’s been fading with Alzheimer’s and other problems, and everyone was expecting this, but it was still a surprise,” Miss Card said.

Mr. Reagan, 93, died yesterday at 1 p.m. with his family by side at his home in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.

He was the “claim to fame” for the tiny town of Tampico, population 900, where Mr. Reagan was nicknamed “Dutch” by his father, John Edward Reagan. The Dutch Diner on South Main Street was originally named after the Pennsylvania Dutch, “but it worked out real well,” Miss Card said.

At a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall in Macomb County, Mich., where the term Reagan Democrat was hatched in 1980 after he captured the vote of conservative Democrats — many of them blue-collar — the flag was lowered immediately to half-staff when news of the president’s death was broadcast.

“It slowed the beat down here,” said Matthew Carrow, post commander. “You can see the change in people’s faces when they begin to speak about the death. Ronald Reagan was a very important man, and he meant something in this area especially.”

Flags were also lowered to half-staff at ballparks and at the Belmont Stakes, where a moment of silence was held before the horse race.

Jennifer Chambrin was shopping in an Atlanta Container Store when she learned of Mr. Reagan’s demise.

“It was shocking, it was very shocking,” said Miss Chambrin, 32, who was 8 years old when Mr. Reagan was first elected president in 1980.

She said she voted for him in the Weekly Reader magazine poll conducted in schools throughout the nation and grew up in a Republican “Reagan house.”

“What he did to open Eastern Europe and tearing down the [Berlin] wall, it was all Reagan,” she said.

Mr. Reagan is credited with defeating communism and in 1987 called upon Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

“He had such an important role in making Europe what it is today,” she said.

Harry Burke, a 69-year-old lifelong Democrat in Prestonsburg, Ky., said Mr. Reagan “is the greatest president we ever had.”

“He never let Gallup Polls determine whether he stayed with an original plan; he always stuck with his plan,” said Mr. Burke, citing Mr. Reagan’s dedication to the Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly known as “Star Wars.”

“I think he is one of the greatest men of the 20th century. People trusted him.”

Even as Nydia Pichardo window-shopped in Miami’s South Beach last night, the 46-year-old talked with friends about the passing of the president.

“I am glad that he gets to rest finally,” said Miss Pichardo, who is an account manager for a Miami-based transportation company. “I am a Democrat, and I voted for him twice. And I never again voted for a Republican president.”

Since the death was announced yesterday afternoon, Jackie Cissell has been on the phone talking to her Republican friends about the loss. The Indianapolis woman, who is an active Republican, was preparing for the state party convention that starts tomorrow.

“I am getting my flag to put at half-mast, and I am sure that we will have a big memorial at the convention,” Miss Cissell said. “I am very sad for Nancy Reagan. The love she and her husband shared was genuine. But at the same time, I am very happy that Ronald Reagan has left his diseased body behind and is in a better place. And the real Ronald Reagan, his spirit, is still alive all over America.”

In other corners of the country, the news was slow as Americans went about their business without being connected to the news.

“He was a strong leader, and I voted for him,” said Kim Dale, who was preparing to open for the dinner hour at Benny’s restaurant in Helena, Mont. “He will go down in history as one of the great presidents.”

Jennifer Ohman of San Diego, where her husband is a naval commander, called it “the end of a great era.”

“I think Reagan’s greatest contribution was obviously the end of the Cold War but also his influence in tearing down the wall, because it was a great achievement for Americans to look at and see what we were able to do,” Mrs. Ohman said.

The Young America’s Foundation, a conservative group for younger Republicans, immediately announced a new Web site, www.rememberronaldreagan.com, dedicated to the honor of the president and his legacy.

Callers to C-SPAN wished the best to the Reagan family. One caller, identifying herself as a Democrat, sobbed as she asked the Democrats to take a day off from partisan politics in respect for the former president.

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