Illinoisans celebrate Ronald Regan's 100th birthday

February 4, 2011 8:59:16 PM PST
Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president who was born and raised in Illinois.

Sunday marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, the 40th president who was born and raised in Illinois.

On Friday night, celebrations of Reagan's legacy are underway.

President Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday is a big deal in the western Illinois town of Dixon.

Just down "Reagan Way" from his boyhood home, you'll find a museum housed in his former school.

"The people that come to town to see where Ronald Reagan lived, this great guy, and the love they had for him, and it kind of rubs on you," said Reagan museum curator Bill Jones.

Filled with campaign buttons and a hat worn by supporters at his presidential inauguration, the museum even recreated his former classroom. And jelly beans are everywhere -- from the jars Reagan kept in the oval office to the jelly bean portrait.

"This all led up from this simple kid that came from back here in the Midwest, but he still never forgot Dixon, Illinois," Jones said.

"I think it is a significant moment, especially now, considering all that he contributed to this great country," said museum visitor Paul Bruno.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich screened his documentary about Reagan Friday afternoon.

"He may have left Illinois, but Illinois never left him," Gingrich said. "It's been nearly 30 years since Ronald Reagan's remarkable two terms as president."

Gingrich says his influence changed modern politics.

"Anyone who would like to understand what America is all about and how America works could study Washington, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan," he said.

"I think he's going to be seen as one of our most successful presidents," said U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. "Having won the Cold War and really led to an economic revolution for the United States, he's someone who the Republican party needs to draw inspiration from as we find our next leader for 2012."

At a gala, Republican heavy-hitters gathered around a birthday cake and honored a president whose legacy lives on.

Reagan's 100th birthday festivities continue through the weekend.

On Saturday night in Chicago, Gingrich and some other 2012 potential GOP presidential candidates are throwing another birthday bash in Reagan's honor.

On Sunday, a tribute video will be shown at the Super Bowl.