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Ronald Reagan much-beloved in Utah for decades

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Utah's love affair with Ronald Reagan goes back many years.

Long before he was the leading light of conservative Republicans, Reagan the actor was a mainstay in the entertainment gossip columns of local newspapers.

But it was Reagan the politician, first as governor of California and later as presidential candidate and then president, who captivated his Utah audience during several visits to the Beehive State, where he energized political conventions and became Utah's most popular president since gaining statehood.

Deseret News photographers have taken hundreds of photographs of Reagan over the years. Photo researcher Ron Fox has culled the newspaper archives and found many of these photos, which can be viewed at the newspaper Web site, www.deseretnews.com.

Reagan was in transition from actor to politician when he visited Utah State University in 1962 with Sen. Barry Goldwater to receive the Robins Award "for outstanding inspiration to America's youth."

When he returned in 1968, during his first term as California's governor, to speak to the Utah Republican State Convention, Reagan's star was rising.

"The one-time movie star turned politician got the two-day convention off to a rousing start, and some 3,000 cheering Republicans jammed the Terrace Ballroom to hear his keynote address," wrote Deseret News political editor M. DeMar Teuscher in the July 13, 1968, Deseret News. "He lifted the 1,484 delegates out of their chairs for another standing ovation when he asserted that 'it is time to stop escalating promises and start enforcing the laws of the this land.' "

Reagan made several stops in Utah during his unsuccessful campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1976.

Four years later, candidate Reagan swept into the Utah GOP convention with the entire Osmond family, a brass band and live elephants in tow.

Deseret News political editor LaVarr Webb recorded the event: "Ronald Reagan wooed, wowed and won Utah Republicans Saturday, arousing waves of applause, cheers and even tears of joy as he promised tax cuts, less government, more energy, a tougher defense, a turnover of public lands and more prosperity for all."

He went on to receive almost 73 percent of Utah's presidential vote.

Two years later, Reagan returned to Utah, this time to rally support for state Republican candidates for national office at a picnic in rural Hooper in Weber County.

"It was the biggest day in Hooper's history, what with the president, the national television networks and the country's biggest newspapers in town. And Hooper pulled out all the stops for the gala celebration," Webb wrote in the Sept. 11, 1982, Deseret News.

The day before, he had written: "Reagan appeared on a podium decked out with saddles, Indian paintbrush and a wagon wheel situated in front of a mock-up of an old corral with a haystack for a backdrop. Several groups provided entertainment, and the flavor was country western with old stagecoaches and wagons providing atmosphere."

Reagan returned in October to speak at the Salt Palace, and in 1984 he appeared again at the Salt Palace before 12,000 American Legion members. Utahns rewarded him that year with 74.5 percent of the vote.

Reagan's final visit to Utah was in February 1991, when he spoke at the annual Nu Skin convention and then addressed an audience of 10,500 in the Marriott Center. There he demonstrated the optimism and communication skills that made him popular.

"There are those who say America is weakening right now, that our glory was the brief flash of time called the 20th century, that ours was a burst of greatness too bright and brilliant to sustain," Reagan told the BYU crowd. "Well, I do not believe that for one instant."

e-mail: mhaddock@desnews.com