It seems like Almost Yesterday that Ronald Reagan came to Sikeston, Missouri to serve as the speaker at the annual banquet of the Sikeston Chamber of Commerce. The year was 1965 and Reagan had only recently emerged as a national political figure following the 1964 Republican National Convention.
Reagan brought his emerging appeal to Southeast Missouri where Republicans were beginning to show strength. Here he argued that high taxes, social programs, and governmental regulations were strangling individual freedom and threatening to drag the country down “to the ant hill of totalitarianism.” It was this appeal that would soon take Reagan to the California’s Governor’s Mansion and then the White House, and it was this message that Ronald Reagan brought to the crowd of nearly 1,000 in the Sikeston Armory, the largest crowd to attend the annual Chamber Banquet to that time.
Fielding Potashnick served as master of ceremonies and coordinated the annual Chamber Awards made to retiring board members, “Committee Chairman of the Year,” and the prestigious “Man of the Year” award, which went to Charles Blanton, Jr., editor and publisher of the Sikeston Daily-Standard.
For most of those in attendance the highlight of the evening was the speech by Reagan, who was described as relaxed, confident, poised, and possessing a warm voice and a happy face. He concluded his presentation by stating that Americans must work to preserve our freedom, and if we do not, a book will be written about “the rise and fall of the United States of America.”
The program concluded with Chamber President J. W. Hartzong presenting Reagan a plaque which designated him as an “Honorary Cotton Picker of Southeast Missouri.”