Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Dixon, Illinois, Part Two

After Ronald Reagan was out of office -- five guys purchased the Dixon, Illinois house he used to live in. Their plan was to turn it into a tourist attraction -- but they were not having much luck.

At some point, Ron called his old friend (and biggest campaign contributor) -- Norman Wymbs. The mayor of Boca Raton, Florida, Norman and Harriett Wymbs were wealthy. Ronnie said, "they're having bake sales, and this thing isn't going to sustain itself...it's going to be an embarrassemt for me. Could you go up there and fix it?"  (I'm just guessin'...)

So, Ronald Reagan's biggest fan -- Mr. Wymbs --  came to town and purchased the Reagan home -- along with many surrounding properties.  He completely renovated the buildings, creating parking lots, etc.

Eventually, he also purchased the long-abandoned Dixon High School. (the Historical Society where Rhonda and I were having our meeting).

Because it had 12" granite stone walls -- demolishing the building would have bankrupted the school district. Wymbs bought the building for $500 (when the school district delivered the title, they gave him back his money.) He established a foundation -- creating the "Dixon Historical Society".

Bill Jones was hired (21 years ago?) to head the foundation and oversee the renovations. OH MY GOD...what a job he's done. The building was solid as a rock -- because it WAS a rock -- lol...but it immediately needed a new roof and over 200 new 10' windows. (which Marvin windows donated).

Bill took classes at the Smithsonian to learn how to maintain a climate controlled environment for exhibits, etc. He hired local craftsmen, and a 90 year old artist who has painted many scenes depicting Dixon history. (like the time there were hundreds of people on the bridge, watching a baptism, and the bridge collapsed, killing 45 people)...

One of the rooms houses the Dixon Chautaqua exhibit. Since both Rhonda and I have taught classes in Chautaqua, NY -- we were fascinated to hear from Bill about how during the turn of the century, there were many Chautaqua Camps all over the country -- and they attracted speakers on the circuit like William Jennings Bryant, Mark Twain, etc. Dixon, Illinois was the second largest -- right after the main one in New York.

Rhonda and I were absolutely slack-jawed. I can't think of any other term. Meeting Bill and listening to him talk was like a behind-the-scenes history lesson...and we were both fascinated. Just when I thought Dixon, Illinois could not get any more interesting -- Bill mentioned the richest family in town. A family we all know....and neither Rhonda nor I had any idea....

Can you guess what family business started in Dixon, Iowa?? And some family members still live there -- and this wealthy family maintains a gated estate for the family retreat every summer?

The family name is Walgreen... WHO KNEW?? Hey -- what an incredible day, eh? It didn't hurt that Rhonda found a fabulous little Italian restaurant for our lunch -- the Basil Ristorante. EXCELLENT.

AND -- oh yeah -- we had a terrific meeting, with lots of ideas sizzling all over the place for 2013. Social marketing is moving so fast, it's hard to keep up -- but we have some REALLY EXCITING things happening this year. 

Here's my point.  Just like people, towns are snowflakes.  Each one different and unique.  The next time you drive by a "Historical Society" -- TURN THE CAR AROUND...

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