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May 27, 2021

Before Becoming an Actor and President, Ronald Reagan Was a Proud Lifeguard

Ronald Reagan is the only U.S. President to ever be a movie star before he was President. But long before he served two terms as the 40th President of the United States of America. Ronald Wilson Reagan worked as a lifeguard.

Starting in 1925, his sophomore year in high school, and continuing for the next 7 summers, Ronald Reagan was the proud lifeguard of Lowell Park’s swimming section of the Rock River.

Ronald Reagan serving as a lifeguard in 1927 at Lowell Park in Dixon, Illinois. (Photo: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library)

When an opening for lifeguard came up, Ronald Reagan went to the YMCA to take a lifesaving course and was then hired for the position. From Memorial Day to Labor Day he worked twelve hours a day, seven days a week keeping swimmers safe. Over the course of 7 summers, he saved 77 lives, a number he kept track of by cutting a notch in a log on the river’s edge each time he pulled someone in need out of the water. Although some people jokingly say that young women almost faked as though they were in need of a lifeguard so that the young, handsome Ronald Reagan would save them. It’s not documented how many times he had to give mouth to mouth.

Ronald Reagan loved his job as lifeguard – he enjoyed helping people, working outdoors, and swimming. He always considered himself blessed to have had such steady work every summer and an opportunity to earn money for his future, even through the midst of the Great Depression.

Ronald Reagan stands on the diving board in the Little 19 (Illinois private colleges) swim meet held at St. Viator in this March 22, 1930 file photo.

Years later, Reagan recalled the challenge in getting swimmers out of the water at the end of his shift. When they wouldn’t listen to his commands to exit the river, he settled on a different tactic. The Gipper would toss a few pebbles in the water and yell, “River rat!” He would then sit back and watch the frantic rush of swimmers as they surged toward dry land, only too eager to avoid entanglement with Dixon’s water rodents.

He also learned the importance of accommodating the requests of his constituents. Although his job description only called for him to keep people from drowning, when an elderly swimmer approached Reagan with a problem, he was quick to help out. The swimmer said, “Will you please dive in? I’ve lost my false teeth.” Reagan dove in several times and finally located the sunken choppers. The grateful man gave the future president $10 for his efforts. Reagan later recalled, “That was the first time I was ever paid for doing anything.”

As his seventh summer as a lifeguard came to an end, he saved his 77th person from the Rock River and put a final notch in the wooden log he used to record the saves. He packed up his towel and left his lifeguard post for the final time. The lifeguard in him never went away, however.

(via Commonplace Fun Facts)


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