(Editor's Note: John H. Croessman, longtime managing editor of the Du Quoin Evening Call, was invited by the White House to travel with President Reagan during his historic July 1988 drought tour of Southern Illinois.)
President Reagan toured the Southern Illinois Corn Belt on July 14, 1988, to get a firsthand look at damage to crops hit by what at the time was America's worst drought in 50 years.
"The situation on the ground, I'm sorry to say, is as bad as I expected," Reagan told Illinois agriculture officials and farmers during a briefing overlooking a parched cornfield at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds. Mr. and Mrs. Herman Krone and son Rick and wife Connie were the host farmers for this leg of the drought tour across the Midwest.
For Du Quoin, it was a paradox of presidential celebrity and agricultural devastation.
Large welcomes were airbrushed onto banners and placed on rooftops near the presidential helicopter landing area just south of Krone Farms. Secret Service security was intense. Marshall Browning Hospital and Memorial Hospital of Carbondale were asked to make sure the president's blood type was on hand. From the time Air Force One landed at the Williamson County Airport to the time Marine One lifted off from Krone Farms it was all about aid to farmers and presidential safety.
Host farmer Herman Krone and wife Betty had raised five children on the homestead where the president would eat homemade cookies, drink lemonade and share an afternoon luncheon at picnic tables in the yard.
Two weeks before the visit, Secret Service agents would patrol the grounds every day. The advance team set up an office in the Krones' downstairs family room. White House staff members watched Betty bake homemade cookies for the president and she enlisted staffers to sift flour for the cookies.
President Reagan loved them.
The Krones wanted to pen the family's pet collie during the visit, but Reagan insisted that they let it roam the yard as it always did.
Reagan's simple elegance was stunning to all who met him at the Marion airport and here in Du Quoin. He was simple and he cared deeply.
Reagan corresponded with the Krone family after that and would invite them to the White House. Four photographs commemorating the Reagan visit to Krone Farms lined the hallway as the Krones entered the Oval Office. He gave the photographs to the Krones as keepsakes.
There were more than 100 Midwest farmers in attendance at the signing of drought legislation, but only the Krones were invited to the Oval Office.
After touring corn and soybean fields parched and stunted by weeks of searing heat, the president urged Congress to swiftly pass drought relief legislation developed by the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
The president made his remarks as the Senate panel gave its tentative approval to a $6 billion drought relief bill. Mr. Reagan said any new bill should provide disaster relief to all farmers affected by the drought, including those who would not normally qualify for federal aid. Any legislation forgave all advanced deficiency payments.
"I'm calling today for Congress to act quickly on comprehensive drought relief, disaster relief for all farmers, for all crops,'' Mr. Reagan said. "This is the worst drought since the Dust Bowl days."
And, one of this small Southern Illinois community's greatest memories.