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Local Editorials

Visiting Dixon, Ill.

Dixon, Ill., is the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, and Lost Lake Radio. I’m sure you’ve heard of RR, but maybe not LLR. 

Lost Lake Radio is an internet radio station that carries podcasts on a variety of homey topics, including my Empty Nest column. There is no advertising, or membership fees.  It is the brainchild of four residents of Lost Lake and reminds me a lot of Garrison Keillor’s mythical, Lake Wobegon.

Except it’s real.

I had built sculptures for two Dixon, IL residents, and needed to deliver them. To my delight, it was arranged so that my visit would include a tour of Reagan’s boyhood home and Lost Lake Radio.

If you haven’t visited Ronald Reagan’s home in Dixon, like Lincoln’s home in Springfield, it’s a must. Off I-88, on the way to Chicago, Dixon has gone all out to showcase the country’s 40th president’s boyhood home.

Tidbits you’ll learn while touring Reagan’s home: as a lifeguard on the Rock River, he saved 77 lives. This has been verified with a plaque commemorating the accomplishment.

As a boy, he got in trouble for shooting off fireworks. A county sheriff stopped him and showed Ronnie his star-shaped badge. Ronnie smarted off and chided, “Twinkle twinkle little star, tell me who do you think you are?”

Ronnie’s dad had to come to the jail and pay Ronnie’s fine — $14.85. To put into perspective how much money that was, when the Reagans rent on their house was raised to $15 a month, they had to move. Ronnie got a job as a lifeguard to pay his father back.

Ronnie’s father, Jack, was a shoe salesman. Kids often went barefoot during the summer. If parents didn’t have enough money to buy shoes for their kids when school started, they knew they could buy shoes from Jack on time — a nickle a week.

Ronnie was a drum major for the YMCA band. One time, leading the band during a parade, Ronnie thought the band was sounding distant. He turned around to see that the band had turned, while he had continued straight. 

He was also editor of the high school yearbook. It’s strange that he didn’t notice that he is listed as “Donald” instead of “Ronald.”

As president, upon visiting his restored childhood home in Dixon, Reagan pried up a loose tile in front of the fireplace, where, as a boy, he hid his pennies. They were still there.

When asked, ”How can an actor be president?” Reagan responded by asking, ”How can a President not be an actor?”

Lost Lake Radio:  Nadine Portner had been thinking about a free internet radio station for some time. She wanted to call it Nadine’s Public Radio, but realized NPR was already taken. 

She and her husband, Marty, got together with two other Lost Lake residents, Bob Norris and Renae Rebechini (yes, they are married), and came up with Lost Lake Radio because, “Everyone has their own Lost Lake, since being at the lake is a state of mind.”

Lost Lake is an 80 acre, man-made lake, northeast of Dixon. There are about 350 homes surrounding the lake, making a small village. The foursome’s original goal with Lost Lake Radio was to have fun, and serve the Lost Lake residents. 

As things will happen, through word-of-mouth and social media, Lost Lake Radio has exploded in popularity. They like to say it now serves the “Greater Lost Lake Area, i.e. the world.” 

The station has about 150 daily listeners, with 100,000 hits per month. People listen from as far away as Germany and Croatia. Not bad for a free Internet radio station, with no advertising, that carries only positive stories.

Their goal is still to have fun and serve their listeners (no, they don’t need another day job). In the near future, they plan to add streaming.

So, if you’re on your way to Chicago via I-88, stop in at Dixon and tour Ronald Reagan’s boyhood home. Wherever you are, you can find Lost Lake Radio at It’s a state of mind.

• • •   

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him at, or visit his website at  Curt records his columns at

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