Weddington man celebrates Reagan’s birthday with more than 500 collectibles
Sunday, Feb. 6 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of the late President Ronald Reagan, and people find different ways to commemorate the event. But Weddington’s John Steward has a pretty good head start on anyone wishing to set a record for collecting the most Ronald Reagan material.
Steward has one of the largest collections of Reagan memorabilia in the East Coast, thanks to more than 20 years of hunting and gathering, and he is always on the lookout for more.
To say that Steward, the current vice president of the Union County GOP, views Reagan as an icon would be an understatement.
“Reagan is my biggest influence,” he said. “My senior year [of high school] was in 1984, so he was the first president I could vote for. I grew up with his politics, so he had a lasting impression on me.”
Steward began his collection while on a trip to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of George H.W. Bush. During his visit to the Smithsonian, Steward stumbled upon a display of political buttons, one of which was a Reagan ‘80 button with picture of the then-candidate in a cowboy hat.
Steward made it his goal to find and secure one of those buttons, but ended up obtaining many more in the process. “Four or five years later, I found the [button] I wanted,” he said. “But by that time, I already had a collection started.”
Before the technological phenomenon called the Internet made its way into the homes of everyday citizens, Steward scavenged antique shops and flea markets for his treasure. He eventually turned to a national organization called American Political Items Collectors, became a member, and ultimately founded the previously non-existent Reagan chapter of the association.
Now, Steward surfs the Web in his free time, primarily eBay, for new material to add to his ever-growing collection. However, friends and family still supply him with Reagan gifts when an occasion warrants it.
Over the years, Steward has expanded his Reagan collection to include artwork, ceramic teapots, books, magazines, vinyl records, and toilet tissue, to name a few. An upstairs room in Steward’s two-story house is home to his political paraphernalia.
All four walls of the room, which is the size of a standard bedroom, are covered with framed objects, license plates, artwork, and banners of political nature. Two jewelry counter-like glass cases house all kinds of political knick-knacks. And, naturally, the majority of the material is Reagan-related. “Overall, I have over 500 Reagan items,” Steward said.
One of Steward’s favorite items is a large portrait which sketches a drawing of President Reagan using words from his famous Berlin Wall speech. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” is used to form part of Reagan’s jaw line.
Perhaps Steward’s most prized possession is a program from President Reagan’s funeral service, given to him by Congresswoman Sue Myrick. The program was made available only to those politicians present at the service. Having worked with Steward on numerous occasions, and knowing that he was an avid collector of all things Reagan, Myrick offered him her copy.
Steward has the program framed in a special place on his wall, right next to a photograph taken of Reagan’s casket being transported on a horse-drawn caisson. Because of the rarity of the program and Myrick’s willingness to give him her copy, Steward holds the item dear to his heart.
Surprisingly, Steward does not spend an enormous amount of money on his collection “Most of my Reagan stuff that I purchase, I keep well under $100,” he says. “I buy a lot of stuff, but I don’t go crazy with it.”
Steward had the opportunity to purchase the rarest Reagan political button, but turned it down because of the cost. “It was over $800,” he said. “I couldn’t justify spending that amount of money.”
Although Steward collects, it’s not always for keeps. “I have given away a few items that I had duplicates of to friends,” he said. “I have a roll of collector coins from Libya. Whenever someone I know gets elected, I give them one to remind them to ask themselves, ‘What would Reagan do?’’
Not everything Steward collects is related to politics. The Stewards also collect posters of their favorite films and have a large set of religious Masterpiece sculptures. “We have almost all of the 27 sculptures,” Steward said.
Steward hopes the 100th anniversary of Reagan’s birth will cause people to turn their attention back to Reagan and his policies, both fiscal and social.
“His policies were sound and proven to work, but you have to implement them all,” he said. “You can’t just do half, and I think that’s why we’re where we’re at today, economically.”
Steward’s wish is that by turning attention to Reagan’s beliefs, it might bring realistic focus back to an “all-or-nothing” society. “In our atmosphere today, people tend to want 100 percent or nothing from politicians,” he said. “Reagan’s philosophy was, ‘If you agree with me 80 percent of the time, that doesn’t mean you’re my enemy 20 percent of the time.’ We need to get back to that philosophy.”
Steward has no special plans to celebrate Reagan’s 100th birthday, other than continuing his quest to acquire more Reagan material. “I just bought a new book about Reagan’s faith,” he said. “And I always get on eBay once a week to look for new things.”