Julie Emmons began collecting items relating to the late Ronald Reagan in 1994.
That was the year the former two-term president announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, writing, “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead.”
Ten years later, Reagan died at the age of 93. A large figure in Republican politics and in the conservative movement since the 1960s, he continues to be a dominant force in the party.
The centerpiece of Emmons’ collection is a signed campaign poster from the 1980 presidential race. It also includes campaign buttons and ribbons, postage stamps, books, and magazines, such as the issue of Time magazine detailing the 1981 assassination attempt.
“I’m always digging through bookstores,” she said. “Anything I can find with Reagan on it.”
Emmons filled a small jar with red, white and blue jellybeans to be part of the collection, since Reagan was known for his love of the sweet snack.
Monday was the 101st anniversary of Reagan’s birth. For the 100th anniversary in February 2011, she loaned part of her collection to the Mebane Public Library for a display.
Her most recent addition to the collection is a replica of a plaque that sat on Reagan’s desk in the Oval Office. It proclaims “It CAN be done.” Among future additions Emmons is eyeing for the collection is a perhaps better-known plaque that sat on the Oval Office desk: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.”
Emmons is pretty sure her collection will grow in size this year. She’s planning a trip to the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., along with her husband, Karl Emmons, and their 8-year-old son, Jacob.
“Jacob wants to see Air Force One,” she said about the version of the presidential plane Reagan used while in office. It was used by American presidents from 1973 to 2001.
Emmons is former chairwoman of the Alamance Republican Women. She is county chairwoman for the campaign of Dan Forest, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
Among other reasons, Emmons said, she admires Reagan for his belief in the greatness of America and his role in the end of the Cold War. She said his success as a political leader guarantees his name is mentioned frequently every time the Republican Party chooses a presidential candidate.
“There’s been a lot of talk lately about Reagan passing the torch to a presidential candidate,” Emmons said. Reagan’s adopted son, Michael Reagan, has endorsed Newt Gingrich, and there’s been debate over whether Gingrich, as a young congressman, was or was not part of the so-called Reagan Revolution.
But there will never be another Reagan, Emmons said, and his legacy belongs to no one person.
“I believe he passed the torch to all of us,” she said.