The President that Saved 77 Lives During His Summer Job as a Teenager

The President that Saved 77 Lives During His Summer Job as a Teenager

Throughout his lifetime, Ronald Reagan accomplished quite a bit, from his time as a small stage actor in Dixon, Illinois, to his two-term Presidency as the leader of the free world. Many people remember Reagan best for bold claims like the “Star Wars” space program and Reaganomics, but there is something else Reagan should be remembered for: his time as a lifeguard. Reagan may have played the hero on screen, but in real life, he saved 77 lives over the course of 7 summers.

Tampico, Illinois

Tampico, Illinois
Ronald Reagan grew up on Main Street in Tampico, Illinois.
©IvoShandor / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license - Original / License

Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States, was born on February 6, 1911, at 4:16 AM. Reagan was the son of John and Nelle Reagan and the younger brother of Neil, who was two years older. The family lived in a five-room apartment on the main street in Tampico, which had a population of 820.

Early Life

Ronald Reagan home
Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home in Dixon, Illinois.
©Teemu008 / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license - Original / License

Reagan and his family moved around quite a few times, including a stop in Chicago in 1913, where his father sold shoes at the famous Marshall Field department store. It was here that Reagan saw urban life for the first time, with streets full of people, carriages, and infrequent automobiles. Ultimately, the family moved to Dixon, Illinois, where John Reagan opened his shoe store.

Growing Up

Long before he was President, Ronald Reagan moved around with his family.
©"Public Domain: Ronald Reagan at Durenberger Rally by Michael Evans, 1982 (NARA/Reagan Library)" by pingnews.com is licensed under PDM 1.0. - Original / License

While Reagan and his family were active in the Church, Reagan also tried acting at a young age, but it wasn’t until a chance experience at 14 that Reagan found his first calling. As he put on his mother’s eyeglasses for the first time, he could see the world differently, and after being fitted for his own pair of glasses, he became a star athlete and lifeguard.

Lowell Park

Lowell Park
While small, Lowell Park, Illinois, had a big influence on Reagan’s life.
©Kepper66 / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en - Original / License

In 1925, Reagan’s sophomore year in high school began the first of seven summers, during which he was a lifeguard at Lowell Park’s swimming section near Rock River. Lowell Park was a 320-acre forested sanctuary near the city of Dixon, which included a posh hotel nearby that catered to wealthy Midwest families.

Lifeguard Hero

Ronald Reagan Lifeguard
Ronald Reagan in his lifeguard attire during one of his work seasons.

Reagan went to the local YMCA and took a lifesaving course to get hired. This course taught him the skills necessary to become a lifeguard. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Reagan worked 12-hour days, seven days a week, to keep hundreds of swimmers safe every summer.

77 Saves

Close up of a lifebuoy ring with rope held up by a lifeguard with a swimming pool on the background . Lifeguard during work concept
The 77 saves for Reagan must have been a real source of pride.
©Media Lens King/Shutterstock.com

Reagan famously saved 77 lives in the seven summers by pulling swimmers out of the water. Reagan would add a notch to a log on the river’s edge after every save to keep track of his count. Filing reports as a lifeguard was unusual then, so Reagan kept count during all seven summers.

Loved Lifeguarding

Lifeguard tower on the beach.
Ronald Reagan loved his lifeguarding role.
©Crystal Vision Images/Shutterstock.com

Reagan loved his role as a lifeguard, which kept him returning for seven seasons. Of course, he had an ulterior motive at times, as the manager of the posh hotel owned a horse that Reagan was occasionally allowed to ride. Reagan was famous for his horseback antics both as President and in the movies, so during this period of life, Reagan would ride on free afternoons if there were no swimmers at the beach.

Famous Quote

Reagan Horse
Ronald Reagan had a lifelong love for horses.

Reagan is famously quoted as saying, “Nothing is so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.” While Reagan certainly accomplished a lot during his lifetime, being on a horse no doubt reminded him of the simpler times back in Dixon, Illinois.

To top