Reagan ‘returns’ to Mt. Morris via actor portrayal; says ‘it’s like coming home’

Mark Tremble, performing as Ronald Reagan, speaks at the Let Freedom Ring Patriotic Program in Mt. Morris on July 4 as local veteran Doug Wean listens.

MT. MORRIS — When Mark Tremble arrived at the Let Freedom Ring Patriotic Program, he wasn’t Mark Tremble.

On July 4, the Performing Arts Guild actor was former President Ronald Reagan.

“We are so honored today to have with us former President Ronald Reagan to celebrate our Fourth of July with us,” said Doug Wean, a U.S. Marine veteran who served in the Vietnam War and received two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. “We invited him here today to talk about his 1963 dedication of our original Freedom Bell, which stands behind the Veterans Memorial Fountain.”

The Reagan reenactment took place in downtown Mt. Morris at the 100-year-old bandshell on the old college campus.

At the time Reagan dedicated the Illinois Freedom Bell in Mt. Morris in 1963, he had not yet been elected as governor of California or as president of the United States. He was an actor in Hollywood.

It was cold that day, Tremble said. It was especially so for Reagan, who lived in southern California and wasn’t acclimated to the Midwest weather.

“So I borrowed a coat from somebody in the audience and wore that coat the entire day,” he said. “Charlie Finch, and I understand he was the undertaker in town. The coat’s right here. They kept it all these years — and it’s held up a lot better than most of us since 1963, just so you know.”

The weather during Tremble’s noon-time appearance as Reagan wasn’t much better, as it began downpouring shortly after he arrived in a motorcade escorted by Mt. Morris police and actors portraying secret service agents.

“This is like coming home,” Tremble said as he and Wean set off on a trip down memory lane. “I’ve got to tell you, back in the early 1980s, I met Doug at Hines Veterans Hospital where he worked, and so did Nancy’s dad.”

Nancy Reagan’s stepfather, Dr. Loyal Davis, was the director of neurosurgery at Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital, Tremble said. Wean happened to work in that department.

“President Reagan, I will never forget. I was leaving work one day and there you and Nancy were, standing in front of an elevator,” Wean recalled. “I didn’t know what to call you, so I just came over and said, ‘Mr. Reagan,’ and you shook my hand. The other thing I told you is that I lived out where you were born and raised.”

Tremble recounted more of his and Wean’s past interaction. Among the memories was Reagan’s time as a lifeguard at the Rock River swimming area on Lowell Park Road.

Reagan had to assist teenagers in the water, and even scold some of the boys who got too “into some of their antics,” Tremble said. Wean’s father was one of the boys Reagan once scolded.

“So if any of you remember that, that’s just one of the reasons I consider this coming home,” he said. “Another reason is, after I graduated, I went to Eureka College and Eureka College played football against the Mt. Morris College right here on this campus. I can’t tell you where the football field was, I don’t remember, and I don’t remember the score either — maybe that’s a good thing, I’m not sure.”

Tremble concluded by reading the speech Reagan gave in 1963, after which, the Illinois Freedom Bell — located just next to the bandshell — was rung.

“Fifty-nine years ago, in February of 1963, a resolution was proposed in Congress by Connecticut Sen. Abraham Ribicoff that called for the ringing of bells nationwide at 2 p.m. every Fourth of July,” Village President Phil Labash said.

The first ringing of the Illinois Freedom Bell took place on July 4, 1963, and has continued ever since, he said.

“May our Freedom Bell continue to ring for decades to come in celebration of Independence Day and the freedom that comes with being an American,” Labash said. “Enjoy the day’s festivities.”

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner

Alexa Zoellner covers Ogle County for the Oregon Republican Reporter, Forreston Journal, Mt. Morris Times and Polo Tri-County Press. She has six-plus years of experience in journalism and has won numerous awards.