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Remembering Ronald Reagan

Local leaders reflect on former president, his impact as they mark Reagan’s 100th birthday

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 9, 2011

 President Ronald Reagan visited the South Campus of Macomb Community College on Oct. 10, 1984, when he was well-received by a capacity crowd of 5,000. Al Lorenzo, then president of the college, said this picture conveyed the spirit of that moment in time.

President Ronald Reagan visited the South Campus of Macomb Community College on Oct. 10, 1984, when he was well-received by a capacity crowd of 5,000. Al Lorenzo, then president of the college, said this picture conveyed the spirit of that moment in time.

Photo courtesy of MCC archives

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WARREN — On Oct. 10, 1984, in the heat of his second presidential campaign, President Ronald Reagan arrived onstage at Macomb Community College to deliver remarks that struck a chord in the hearts of “Reagan Democrats.”

Al Lorenzo was there.

The longtime president of the college, now MCC’s president emeritus, remembers well the social, political and economic environment of the day.

“The United States had experienced a pretty deep recession in the early ‘80s. It was a time when the interest rates had skyrocketed, and the nation was fortunately coming out of the recession, because I could remember one of the things he talked about was how in the past 22 months the nation had created 6 million new jobs,” Lorenzo said. “There was kind of a celebration of ‘good times are here again.’ But what was really at play in 1980, in that election, Reagan’s popularity with traditionally Democratic communities — particularly in Warren and Macomb County — was really unprecedented. It gave rise to the phrase ‘Reagan Democrats.’”

Speaking to a capacity crowd of about 5,000 people in the field house at MCC’s South Campus in Warren, the president’s remarks in 1984 served to rekindle the fire he had previously ignited in the region. The speech began with a focus on economic revitalization. Two-thirds of the way through, Lorenzo said, Reagan shifted the focus to the Democratic Party, whose leaders the president said had lost touch with the mainstream and with the ideals the party stood for.

“He said, ‘I want you to know that you are not forgotten. I want you to know you have a home with us,’” Lorenzo said. “What he was really doing was coming into the heart of the community.”

Reagan’s connection with the region thrust Macomb County into the political spotlight for years and campaigns to come. Lorenzo said the county became a political bellwether, known as one to vote for the candidate and not necessarily the party.

The Reagan visit, the first to the college by a U.S. president, set the stage for a string of stops at MCC by nearly every president or presidential candidate since.

Prior to delivering his remarks at the college, Reagan addressed Ukrainian leaders at a luncheon at Warren’s Ukrainian Cultural Center.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts, a retired high school government teacher who saw Reagan on the campaign trail in 1979, planned to host a celebration of Reagan’s 100th birthday at the city’s Stilwell Manor on Feb. 4.

Reagan’s actual centennial birthday was Feb. 6.

Fouts also issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 4-11 Ronald Reagan Week in the city of Warren.

“I think it’s worth commemorating, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat,” Fouts said. “It’s kind of a unique moment. He spent a full day in Warren.”

Fouts remembered Reagan’s “engaging personality” and his firm grasp of his belief system.

Lorenzo, who spent 10 or 15 minutes with the president during his visit to MCC, said Reagan came across as well-prepared and genuine.

“What came across is that the personality that people ascribed to Ronald Reagan in fact was his personality. There wasn’t really a mismatch,” Lorenzo said. “He came across as an affable, friendly, soft-spoken, engaging type of person. It was very pleasant.”

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