What Reagan thought of Kinnick
It was on October 30, 1990, that I found myself face to face with Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States of America. Just two years out of the White House, he was visiting his hometown of Dixon, Illinois, for what would prove to be the last time, and was meeting a group of thirty Dixon citizens. As the executive editor of the Dixon newspaper, I and my wife, Bev, were invited to meet Mr. Reagan.
The former president worked his way around the small circle, shaking hands as he was being introduced to those assembled. As he moved toward Bev and me, I wondered what I would say to the man who had served his country in the highest office for eight years and was also acknowledged to be the leader of the Free World during that era.
All three of us—Mr. Reagan, Bev, and I—had Iowa roots. I was born and raised in Waterloo, while Bev grew up on a farm south of Waterloo, near Eagle Center. In the mid 1930s, a young Ron Reagan worked for radio stations in both Davenport and Des Moines before heading west to California, and his destiny.
I knew everyone in the room would be talking to him about Dixon, as there were several former classmates in the group, and other longtime Dixon political figures. So, as Mr. Reagan came closer, I decided I would ask him a question about Iowa.
Tall and very impressive in his dark suit at age 79, he stood in front of Bev and me and we shook hands. He spoke softly and said he was happy to meet us, and was about to move on to the next person when I spoke out:
“Mr. President, I know you used to broadcast Iowa football games in the 1930s, and so I wondered if you ever met Nile Kinnick.”
He stopped in his tracks, looked at me again, and smiled faintly.
“Noooo, I never did,” he said in that familiar voice. “I was gone to California by the time Nile was a playing at the university. But I wish I would have met him. He was quite a man.”
And then I offered my own opinion of Nile Kinnick.
“I’ve read a great deal about his life,” I said, “and had he not died at the age of 24 on a training flight during World War II, I think he might have become someone very, very special.”
Mr. Reagan nodded and then added a line I will never forget:
“Yes, I agree. I think he could have been anything he wanted, maybe even President of the United States!”
The former President of the Untied States said he thought Nile Kinnick might have become President of the United States!
That story has stuck in my mind for nearly twenty years. I told it once when I was a guest on WHO Radio in Des Moines and on several occasions when giving speeches around the state, like at the Iowa Quarterback club in Iowa City. That group has asked me back three times, and the members love the story. Among those in the audience was Bump Elliott, the former highly-successful athletic director at the University of Iowa.
After one such speech, I ran into Bump an hour later in downtown Iowa City. He said to me, “You tell so many interesting stories about Iowa history, Mike. They should be written down somewhere or they will be forgotten.”
Bump is right—stories about a state’s leaders, interesting personalities and important events need to be saved before they disappear forever. That is one of the main reasons Iowa History Journal has come into existence. Without knowing it, of course, Nile Kinnick, Ronald Reagan and Bump Elliott all played key roles in the birth of Iowa History Journal.
I have always loved history and journalism. I worked for 35 years as a newspaper writer, editor and publisher in three states, Iowa, Illinois and Colorado. Every time Bev and I left Iowa for a better job somewhere else, we always managed to come back home. We both have very strong Iowa connections and are very proud of our roots.
The goal of Iowa History Journal is to keep alive the memories of Iowa’s heritage in a manner that is both educational and entertaining. We want readers to take an active part in the publication. We will encourage letters to the editor from readers, and ideas for stories and photographs.
We will print six issues a year—in January, March, May, August, October and December. We believe the magazine will not only be a tremendous educational tool for school, but will be fun reading for Iowans of all ages, living anywhere in the country.
We look forward to hearing from you with comments and story suggestions. You can send comments to Iowa History Journal, 116 First Street, East, Newton, IA 50208 or use our email address at firstname.lastname@example.org.