Dixon, Illinois isn't really known for much.
In it's hayday of the late 1920s.....the locals had this little park along Rock River. There was this couple (the Graybills) who managed the park, and ran concessionaires there.
This was before the great depression, and there was ample money to be made. The draw? Rock River of course, where you could come out and swim.
There was one problem with this great opportunity for folks. It really depended on Rock River and an element of safety. You just couldn't allow anyone to drown. It was bad for the park.....bad for business.....and it affected possibility of you losing your business license. Bluntly......you just could have anyone drown.
So Ed and Ruth Graybill went out to find someone that they could trust to be the lifeguard.
Unlike the wussy atmosphere of today.....if you were a lifeguard working for the Graybills....you were a multitask individual, and put into a full twelve-hour day....probably seven days out of the week. If stormy weather was predicted....that was probably your only way of getting a day off. Don't even bother discussing a forty-hour limit. Don't even think about talking over bonuses or extras.
Ed and Ruth found this one punk kid from the local area. He was clean-cut, willing to work the extra hours, and polite. The kid admitted he was a pretty fair swimmer. In those days....you probably were certified by some Red Cross guy.....but there wasn't any real training to be a lifeguard, compared to today's atmosphere. So, you really had to know something about swimming.
This punk kid hired.....quickly learned the routine. He had to haul around the coolers to get filled with ice each day, for the concessionaires. He made sure things were kept clean and orderly.
Ed and Ruth tried hard to stretch out every single nickle and dime for their business....so they even got real floodlights. This would have been new and unusual for the era, and placed them along the river. The hopes were.....folks would stay around past dark....sipping sodas and munching on snacks they sold. You can imagine this concentration of effort....to bring every single cent into the operation.
This punk kid had an opportunity to watch this.....seven days a week.
It's an amazing thing to consider, but the punk kid worked alone. Ed and Ruth just couldn't afford another lifeguard. The kid had to be there on time....do the odd tasks....watch for dimwits in the water....and stay way past sundown.
On an average day.....there might have a couple hundred folks come by....on a great weekend day....maybe a thousand. Rock River was a decent draw for the local area. This punk kid had to stand there and act in a capacity that few teenage kids could imagine today.
History records that Ed and Ruth hired the same punk kid each summer for six years. The kid just kept returning and doing what had to be done.
Folks are shocked to find out that over six years.....the punk kid saved seventy-seven people from drowning. The kid documented every single episode....like a mark on a pistol, or a bomb on a fighter. The kid was proud of the seventy-seven number. He was also proud that not a single person drowned over the six years at Rock River.
At the end of six years....the kid had some other things in life planned, and just had to leave.
The punk kid, Ronald Reagan, probably had the best training in his life at Rock River....but he'd never admit it. There are seventy-seven folks who probably went on in life....never really grasping what happened to them on that day or why they got dragged out of the water by the punk kid.
It would have been curious to ask Ronald Reagan which he appreciated more....the eight years in Washington, or the six at Rock River.
The best we can say....is that something mythical and magical occurred in Rock River.....for their benefit, Reagan's benefit, and ours.