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Education 2011: They Have Found Him

by John J. Miller

Eureka College discovers Ronald Reagan

When Willie Sue Smith Stewart died on August 17 at the age of 101, she attracted a little more attention than the typical elderly black lady in small-town Texas. The obituaries all noted her accomplishments — a long career as a teacher, a progeny of eight grandchildren, and hitting the century mark — but the real interest for readers lay in her brush with fame: She was one of 41 graduates from Eureka College in 1932 and had been the final survivor of the class that included Ronald Reagan.

Eureka College put out a press release and sent two representatives to her funeral, which is not how this cash-strapped school usually behaves when a graduate dies. But Willie Sue was its last living link to the man who has mattered more to its reputation than any other — and the way the college treated her passing shows how fully it has tried to embrace its legacy as the alma mater of one of America’s great statesmen.

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