Massillon Independent

June 7, 2004
 
Fence brought about Reagan-Regula friendship

By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON - The poet Robert Frost said good fences make good neighbors.

In the case of President Reagan and Rep. Ralph Regula, a fence made a friendship.

Regula, speaking from France where he participated in the 60th anniversary of D-Day over the weekend, recalled how a fence drew him and the late president together.

"I'm saddened by his death," Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, said in a phone interview from Paris. "I considered him a friend as well as a leader."

Regula is among a small group of congressmen who accompanied House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, R-Ohio, to the commemoration. The delegation meets with French lawmakers on Monday and returns to the Capital Tuesday.

Reagan had just begun his presidency, and he and Regula hardly knew each other, when a chance comment about fence building by Regula's son sparked the president's interest.

The 1981 exchange marked the beginning of a conversation about fences and land, a sharing of correspondence and ultimately an invitation to Regula to visit Reagan's Santa Barbara ranch.

Regula took his son Richard to meet the president in the White House, and during the visit, Richard mentioned that he had read an article about a unique fence fashioned from old telephone poles that Reagan had built on his ranch.

"We could have used you yesterday," said the son, who had helped build a fence at Regula's Ohio dairy farm the day before.

"So Reagan, he launches into a discussion of how he builds fence out of old telephone poles," the congressman remembers.

Within days, Regula was surprised to receive a package from the president containing a handwritten note and three photographs of Reagan building his fence.

The subject came up again in 1984, when Regula was flying to Canton, Ohio with Reagan on Air Force One. Reagan was on his way to dedicate the Timken Co.'s new Faircrest Steel Plant.

Visiting with the president in the aircraft, Regula asked for more details on Reagan's fence. This time, the president sent him a picture he had sketched and detailed specifications for building the fence.

Regula said he later found out that White House officials had urged Reagan to turn over the task of drawing up the specifications to the foreman at his ranch. "No, I want to do this myself," Reagan replied.

Regula used the blueprint to build his own Reagan-designed fence on his farm.

It turned out "great, perfect," he said.

He sent Reagan a photograph of the completed product. The president wrote back, saying he was sorry he couldn't have been there to help and ending with a postscript, "You are a fence builder summa cum laude," Regula recalls.

After the president had left the White House, Regula dropped in on him at his Los Angeles office.

"I want you to go up to the ranch and see my fence," Reagan insisted. Regula went to the ranch, where the foreman gave him a tour.

When Regula saw the fence, he noticed that Reagan had nailed a plaque to it that the congressman had given him as a gift. Regula had ordered two of the plaques made, identifying the fence as a Reagan original. Regula posted the other one on his own fence.

As he reflected on Reagan's enthusiasm for helping him build a fence, Regula saw it as an indication of the former president's goodness.

"I think he related well to people," Regula said. "It would have been easy for him to brush (his son) Richard off and break off the whole thing."

Regula credited Reagan's defense buildup and foreign policy for helping bringing down the Iron Curtain.

"I was always impressed with his knack for understanding what people's aspirations were, as well as his leadership in foreign affairs," he said. "He leaves a legacy of goodwill."