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Review: Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Continues Classy Valentine’s Day Tradition

Couples celebrate Valentine's Day under Air Force One at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, CA, for an occasion marking the 16th annual event of its kind. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

On February 14, 2024, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum hosted its 16th annual Valentine’s Day Sweetheart’s Dinner and Dance — a stately and sumptuous affair where a grandiose magisterial setting elegantly aligned with fine cuisine, live music, and arm-in-arm couples who merrily danced. Throughout the evening, attendees were treated to four delectable courses, an eclectic range of tuneful music, and sights of a bygone, but no less significant, era. Certainly, not lost for the nearly 500 guests during the splendorous party was a pensive reflection on the timeless love story of Ronald and Nancy Reagan — a 52-year marriage that crossed and touched generations.

Guests are seated inside the Air Force One Pavilion for the 16th annual Valentine’s Day Sweetheart’s Dinner and Dance at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, CA. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

The evening, which spanned four hours, began as couples lined up at the entrance where they walked through the library’s grand halls, glimpsed the presidential seal, and a bronze, life-like rendering of the Reagans. As the arriving female counterparts were greeted with roses, and various photo opportunities presented themselves, romantic pairs ambled through the museum, observing a breathtaking replica of Reagan’s oval office, prior to walking into the headlining attraction — the expansive Air Force One Pavilion. Nattily dressed visitors descended upon not just Reagan’s gargantuan Air Force One, which was retired in 2001, but his motorcade and a sea of red-clothed round tables with inviting bread rolls and butter.

Still, there was no rush to be seated as a collection of docents encouraged the event’s patrons to explore the soverign plane and its top-of-the-line trappings — at least for its time. Besides the sheer size of the Air Force One (also known by its tale no. 27000) in an enclosed space, it is impressive to ponder that it flew the 40th U.S. president to nearly every state and 26 countries, tallying 660,000-plus miles; in fact, of the seven presidents the “flying White House” served, Reagan’s administration was responsible for more than half the distance traversed. With this much history lining every cabin, it was doubly awe-inspiring to be dignifiedly enjoying a meal right under its outstretched wings, to feel like statesmen and women for one night, on the most amorous of days.

A panoramic view of the 16th annual Valentine’s Day Sweetheart’s Dinner and Dance inside the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, CA. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

Servers dutifully attended to each table, bringing out flutes of sparkling champagne with raspberry garnish accompanied with appetizing shrimp cocktails, which preceded an exquisite spring mix salad with strawberries, walnuts, feta cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette dressing. This was followed by one of three entrée choices — Chicken Riesling, a vegetarian dish, and the unanimously praised braised beef short ribs with fluffy mashed potatoes and oven-roasted carrots. The short rib plate was as tender and melt-in-your-mouth gratifying as such an offering would allow, soaring past even the highest of expectations. To finish, one of two picture-perfect desserts lured: a dulce de leche cocoa cone with walnuts, and a mango-coconut mousse cake paired with passion-fruit drizzle and a dollop of roasted marshmallow. For those enamored with chocolate, the former percolated with an enchanting richness; and, for those seeking a fruitier medley, the latter’s variegated texture and taste dazzled the palate.

A view of Ronald Reagan’s motorcade on the second level of the Air Force One Pavilion at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum in Simi Valley, CA. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

Indeed, there would’ve been no worthwhile celebration without music — an endeavor melodiously carried out by a quartet representing Liberty City Entertainment. Comprised of a graceful frontwoman, and three tuxedoed males — a saxophonist, keyboardist, and drummer — the four plied their respective crafts and harmonized for those audacious enough to occupy the dance floor. There was no shortage of numbers played, either, which were oftentimes adjoined via aurally smooth transitions. From George Gershwin jazz standards to Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street,” Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes’s “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” the Temptations’ “My Girl,” Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” and finally Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” to cap off the festivities, love matches and friends alike waltzed, slow-danced, made a conga line, and even country two-stepped. Smiles, laughter, heartfelt acknowledgements, and a general euphoria swept up those within earshot of the songs.

Last, but not least, particularly for the attendees who delighted in the charming night’s commemoration of endearment with their intimate partner, was a likely reminder of the enduring bond between Ronald and Nancy Reagan until the passing of the “Gipper” on June 5, 2004. Needless to say, even in their older years, their mutual affection never ceased. Before becoming Nancy Reagan, she was Nancy Davis, a TV/film and stage star; of course, Ronald was a famous actor as well as the Screen Actors Guild’s president. Their first date at the once-thriving Chasen’s restaurant on Nov. 15, 1949 — under the guise of Nancy clearing her reputation since there was another actress of the same name who was being decried as a Communist — set in motion the journey of a duo who would eventually reign in another medium: politics. Not to mention, when her husband passed, Nancy continued to pursue non-profit efforts at the library in Simi Valley until her death on March 6, 2016.

Ronald Reagan, during his presidency, sits on a bench with his first lady, Nancy Reagan. Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum

All this is to say that many guests of the Valentine’s Day gala found themselves honored to experience a memorable social occasion almost as delegates by proxy to the devotional legacy left behind by one of history’s most decorated twosomes. The library may have very well been the couple’s second home and, for the 16th year on February 14th, hundreds were among a humble and proud company.

For further information on the 16th Valentine’s Day Sweetheart’s Dinner and Dance tradition at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum, and to register for future events at the venue, visit reaganfoundation.org.

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