Close
Request mobile website view
Subscribe | Log In
Welcome back!
My Account | Log Out

Did President Ronald Reagan ever visit La Grande?


No, but he did twice telephone La Grande while president, corresponded via letters when he was younger with two relatives who lived here and made a campaign stop in Pendleton.

Reagan’s calls to La Grande were on May 28, 1985. The calls were to Oregon U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, who was here that day to make several presentations, including an address at La Grande High School’s commencement.

One of Reagan’s calls actually disrupted the LHS ceremony, according to a May 29, 1985, Observer article. Packwood had just completed his commencement address when he was informed Reagan needed to speak with

Continue to read this article and more, subscribe now

Subscribe and get unlimited digital access.

No, but he did twice telephone La Grande while president, corresponded via letters when he was younger with two relatives who lived here and made a campaign stop in Pendleton.

Reagan’s calls to La Grande were on May 28, 1985. The calls were to Oregon U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, who was here that day to make several presentations, including an address at La Grande High School’s commencement.

One of Reagan’s calls actually disrupted the LHS ceremony, according to a May 29, 1985, Observer article. Packwood had just completed his commencement address when he was informed Reagan needed to speak with him.

A La Grande High School official told the audience Packwood had received the call and had to leave early. Packwood, after staying long enough to see the outstanding seniors and scholarship recipients recognized, left to receive the phone call.

It wasn’t the first conversation Packwood had with the president while in La Grande that day though.

While visiting The Observer the morning of May 28, 1985, Packwood’s press secretary told him a message had been left by the president. Packwood said if the matter was urgent the president could call him at the newspaper office.

A short time later the call came through — Reagan wanted to thank Packwood for his support of a tax reform package that the president was to explain on national television that night.

Packwood spoke to Reagan in the office of Bob Moody, then The Observer’s publisher, for two to three minutes. Dave Stave, then The Observer’s editor, wrote about the call in a column that appeared May 30, 1985.

“A few of us, eager to hear Reagan’s voice, tried to cut into the call on our own phones, but to no avail,” Stave wrote.

The editor explained that the phone system protected the privacy of calls.

“Besides,” he added. “It would have been embarrassing to be caught eavesdropping on the president.”

La Grande pen pals

Reagan was a prolific letter writer who sent or dictated more than 5,000 during his lifetime, according to the Nov. 19, 2003, issue of Human Events, an American political news and analysis website. A number of these letters were sent to two relatives who taught at what is now Eastern Oregon University more than six decades ago, according to an article in the Nov. 10, 2007, Observer.

The professors, Martha Addy and Sarah Powell, were fraternal twin sisters and the aunts of actress Jane Wyman, Reagan’s first wife. Bob Smith, one of Addy’s students, told The Observer in 2007 that the professor read many of Reagan’s letters in her classes.

“She (Addy) called him Ronnie,” Smith said. “It would be nice to find those letters today.”

At the time, Reagan hadn’t yet entered politics but was a prominent Grade B movie star. He was then best known for films like “Knute Rockne All American” (1940), “King’s Row” (1942) and “Bedtime for Bonzo” (1951).

Addy was a professor of education at Eastern and Powell was a professor of psychology.

Smith, who was living in Baker City in 2007, grew up in La Grande and graduated from Eastern in 1951. He taught in the Enterprise School District for 10 years and the Baker School District for 22 years.

Touching down in Pendleton

Reagan made a number of presidential campaign stops in Oregon, including one in Pendleton on May 22, 1976. He spoke at a rally attended by about 1,000 at Pendleton’s airport while campaigning for the 1976 Republican nomination.

Reagan made reference to Pendleton’s signature event during his brief stop.

“No one in the west does not know about the (Pendleton) Round-Up,” Reagan said in the May 24, 1976, edition of The East Oregonian.

Although an avid horseman, Reagan said he had never attended the Pendleton Round-Up.

The future president came to Pendleton three days before Oregon’s presidential primary. Reagan, who was challenging President Gerald Ford for his party’s nomination, lost the Oregon primary to the incumbent, 50.31 to 45.79 percent. He later narrowly lost to Ford in the race for the Republican nomination.

Reagan of course rebounded in 1980 when he was elected president.