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Ronald Reagan

First Jobs: 1932–1937

Early Life: 1911–1932

Becoming a Star: 1937–1946

To pay for his education and to help his family during the Depression, Reagan worked a number of jobs in high school and college. His least favorite job was probably cooking hamburgers at Eureka College. He found washing tables in the women's dormitory at the college much more interesting, but not very satisfying either. For seven summers in a row he worked as a lifeguard at Lowell Park on the Rock River in Dixon where he clocked in twelve hours a day for seven days a week. During those summers, Reagan saved seventy-seven swimmers from drowning in the river's strong undertow. Decades later, as President, Reagan still referred to this statistic as one of his finest achievements.

Reagan faced two life-changing setbacks after graduating from college in 1932. First, the girl he had dated for eight years throughout high school and college, Margaret Cleaver, left him for another man. The two had become engaged towards the end of college and agreed to marry when she returned from her teaching job and a trip to Europe. Before the year was over, however, she had returned the engagement ring to him by mail and enclosed a note explaining she had gotten engaged to another man in Europe. This was a crushing blow in and of itself, but then Reagan was turned down for the position of sporting goods manager at the new Montgomery Wards store in Dixon. During the height of the Depression, jobs were hard to come by, and Montgomery Wards was not only known for its high-paying positions ($12.50 per week), but also for its employment stability. Unfortunately for Reagan, the supervisor chose to hire a recent athletic high school graduate. Without this job, Reagan was forced to look elsewhere for income.

After working his last summer as a lifeguard on the Rock River, Reagan set out in the summer and autumn of 1932 in search of career. A former teacher of his recommended he seek opportunities in the budding communications industry, and so Reagan took his advice and traveled to dozens of cities looking for employment at radio stations. He nearly gave up on the idea of working in radio until the unexpected happened: the World of Chiropractic (WOC) radio station in Davenport, Iowa, hired him to announce the University of Iowa football games on the air. Soon, Reagan transferred to sister station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa, and was promoted to be a regular announcer for the station. His salary of $100 dollars a month was astounding for the time, especially given that he was only twenty-two years old. Interestingly, Reagan recalled in his memoirs years later that one of his most memorable games during his college football announcing career was one in which Gerald Ford played center for Iowa's rival, the University of Michigan.

Within a few years, the station quadrupled Reagan's salary to nearly $100 a week. As he grew more popular in the Midwest, he began covering Chicago Cubs baseball games at Wrigley Field. He brought a new dramatic excitement to the game that radio listeners loved. He also wrote a popular sports column in the Des Moines Dispatch. Reagan became a huge celebrity in Iowa, so popular that the radio station broadcast his farewell party when he eventually left the state. /PARAGRPAH

Before leaving Iowa, though, Dutch Reagan decided to join the Army Reserve. He later admitted that he had absolutely no desire to become a military man or to fight in any wars, but merely wanted the opportunity to ride horses. Several of his friends in Iowa had introduced him to horseback riding, and he grew to love it almost more than anything else. When he found out that one could join the cavalry reserves at Fort Des Moines and ride horses any day for free, he signed up for the Citizens Military Training Program. Soon he was a reserve officer in the Fort Des Moines Fourteenth Cavalry Regiment. Believing the "war-to-end-all- wars" had already been fought, he never expected that he would ever be called into active duty.

Because poverty was so common and jobs were so difficult to find during the Great Depression, many Americans wholeheartedly supported President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. In the 1930s, Ronald "Dutch" Reagan was among FDR's Democratic supporters. Reagan's father Jack even served as the chief administrator for FDR's Works Progress Administration office in Dixon. Ronald tuned in to nearly every one of FDR's fireside chats during college and, as mentioned earlier, even supported the rights of Eureka's striking teachers. For the man who would arguably become America's most conservative Republican president in the twentieth century, Reagan's history with the Democratic Party is one of the greatest ironies in his life.

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