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WGLT's series that helps Bloomington-Normal's newest residents learn about the community as it exists, and empowers them to make it the home they want it to be.

What you can learn about Ronald Reagan during a visit to Eureka College

Just a short ride from Bloomington-Normal, there’s a treasure trove of presidential history. And no, we’re not talking about the Abraham Lincoln museum in Springfield.

Before he was an actor, governor or president, Ronald Reagan attended Eureka College in Eureka. That’s about 30 miles northwest of Bloomington-Normal. He returned there 12 times after he graduated, including his commencement address in 1982 while he was president.

WGLT’s Welcome Home series – focused on helping our newest neighbors learn about the area – recently visited the Ronald Reagan Museum at Eureka College. The museum has many physical items from Reagan’s life and service, including a section of the Berlin Wall that the 40th president so famously called to be torn down.

The museum likes to tell the story of the “Eureka Ronald Reagan,” said curator and archivist Cassandra Chapman.

“One of our main ideals here at Eureka is servant-leadership. And who’s a better example of that than Ronald Reagan, who became a servant-leader his entire life,” Chapman said. 

The museum features many objects, pictures and paintings. A fan favorite, Chapman said, are the reddish-brown presidential cowboy boots made special for Reagan – one of only four pairs made, complete with the official presidential seal. His Golden Globe is also on display.

Planning your visit

The museum is open for visitors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Weekend visitors can be arranged in advance as schedules permit. 

You should give yourself 30 to 60 minutes for a self-guided visit. And don’t forget to visit the Reagan Peace Garden just outside the museum, featuring a Reagan bust and the Berlin Wall piece. 

For a deeper dive, you can arrange a guided tour that takes about 60 to 90 minutes. You can arrange that by emailing Chapman or calling (309) 467-6475. 

Chapman connects with Reagan’s story personally. She grew up in a small town called Annawan in western Illinois, not far from Tampico, where Reagan was born. She spent a lot of time in the museum as a student at Eureka College. She was floundering at one point, and a friend who saw how much time she spent there asked if she ever considered making a career of it. She went on to earn her master’s in museum studies. 

“I just identify with coming from a humble beginning, not having a lot of money growing up, and working hard to achieve the greatness that you want,” Chapman said. “Here I am, full circle, being curator of the museum that started it for me. And that’s kind of the story he tells. He came from a very humble beginning. His family didn’t have a lot of money. He was a scholarship student here at Eureka. And yet he worked hard and became president of the United States. So if you work hard, you can be who you want to be.”

Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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