Sussex County mourns the passing of Ronald Reagan

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:46

    Students will be studying the ceremony of a state funeral and looking at other state funerals in the past. In most classrooms, students will be able to watch the live telecast of the funeral procession and the service. Students are also studying quotes from Reagan and interviewing their parents about Reagan's presidency. Wetzel noted that many of the students were born during Reagan's presidency, "so even if they don't think he was a part of their lives, he was." Wirths said Reagan was always his favorite president and served as a role model for his entry into public service. Wirths was a freshman in high school when Reagan was first elected, and had just graduated high school when Reagan was re-elected. At age 19, Wirths attended a conservative caucus dinner where Reagan spoke, but he did not get to meet the President. "It was $1,000 to have your picture taken with Reagan," Wirths recalled, an expense the young future freeholder couldn't afford. "I regret it now, but at the time it may have well been a million dollars." Wirths called Reagan one of his all-time heroes, and said he believes Reagan will rank as one of the greatest Presidents ever, "and certainly the greatest in my lifetime." Wirths said he was saddened by Reagan's passing, but also relieved to see the leader's long illness finally over. Former Wantage Mayor Jeff Parrott said Reagan also inspired him to get involved in public service and in his community. Parrott said Reagan's greatest strength was his forthright attitude and belief in doing things to better the community. Parrott said on one issue alone - morality and the presidency - Reagan deserves to be remembered. "Ronald Reagan did not demand respect," Parrott said. "He commanded it." Virginia Littell, who served as the State Republican chair and is considered to be one of the most influential New Jersey women in Republican politics, met Reagan many times, but her strongest impression was forged in 1976, when Reagan was seeking the G.O.P. nomination against then-Pres. Gerald Ford. The Littells were some of the first New Jersey Republicans to back Reagan's race, and her husband Robert Littell, then a member of the state assembly, served as a Reagan delegate. The Littells first met Reagan at a party at the Binghampton, a ferryboat restaurant docked on the Hudson River in Edgewater. "He was so personable," she said. "When he was speaking to you it was just you and what you had to say." Virginia Littell has met five Presidents and found Reagan to be the most engaging and the least likely to be worried about what was next on his schedule or who else was waiting to speak with him. Littell said at first many people underestimated Reagan, labeling him as "an actor, and a B-actor at that," or "only a governor." Reagan shrugged off the jibes and followed his inner compass, Littell said. "He had a tremendous amount of intestinal fortitude," she said. "He was a very courageous person who sat in that oval office." She said Reagan was very confident in himself and his beliefs, but mostly seemed to be worried about "doing the best he could." Littell also had praise for former first lady Nancy Reagan, whom she called very focused on protecting "Ronnie." "She was very focused," Littell said. "She was birdlike, small, and absolutely focused on protecting her husband. She looked like you could blow her over, but that was wrong; she was steel." State Sen. Bob Littell also praised Reagan for his determination and poise. "He was an outstanding individual," he said. "He could be extremely strong about what he wanted, and afterwards he would express his sincere gratitude." Littell believes Reagan will be remembered among our top five Presidents. "There's no doubt in my mind that he ended the cold war, and as a result many people are now able to enjoy a life of freedom," Littell said. Former Vernon Township Mayor John Logan called Reagan, "a true leader."  Logan said, "Reagan had a vision of optimism and strength for America, and he had the guts to see it through." "Where others appealed to people's fears, Reagan tried to appeal to their optimism," Logan said. In Wantage, township committeeman Parker Space said Reagan's death marked the end of an era. "A lot of what made him stand out was that he wasn't a career politician; it wasn't his whole life," Space said. "He brought a lot of knowledge with him, and he was looking to serve his country."