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Legendary Locals: RSM Students Befriend First Lady
by: Debbie L. Sklar
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The sisters strike a pose with Richard V. Allen.
The sisters strike a pose with Richard V. Allen.

An interest in politics, family history and a book report took sisters Michaela and Gianna Franzi on a journey in early November that led them to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library for a day-long conference called: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Wall: Reflections from Yesterday, Lessons For Today.

Michaela, 11, a fifth grade student at St. John’s Episcopal School in Rancho Santa Margarita, had been working on a book report of a Ronald Reagan biography when her parents learned about the event at Reagan Library in Simi Valley. The sisters received permission from their teachers at to miss class to attend the event, and proudly wore their school uniforms.

Following the panel discussion, they approached some of the participants for autographs. Peter Robinson, writer of Reagan’s famous “Tear Down This Wall” speech, and Richard Allen, Reagan’s Chief Foreign Policy Advisor, took time to talk with the Franzi sisters and sign their books. The highlight of the day came when Nancy Reagan passed by, pausing for a moment to acknowledge the girls.

“I am doing a book report on your husband,” Michaela informed the former First Lady, to which she replied, “Good!”

“It is wonderful for them to see that world leaders are really just people, too,” says Theresa Franzi, mother of the two girls.

The girls' mom was inspired to share this experience with her daughters as a history lesson and a reminder of her own family heritage. Raised by her German mother, the fall of the Berlin Wall holds personal significance for Theresa and her family.

The panelists discussed Reagan’s role in the collapse of Communism and what his approach still offers today. The line-up included his Secretary of State George Shultz, his U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, his National Security Advisory Allen, current President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Klaus, current State Minister for Reintegration, Government of Georgia Temuri Yakobashvili, and Margaret Thatcher’s Foreign Policy Advisory Lord Charles Powell and many others.

Michaela says the most exciting part about the conference was meeting Allen and Robinson.

“I felt like we were ambassadors for children all around the world saying, ‘Hey, kids can come to world events like this, too!’ Maybe if other parents and kids see that we went to this conference, they will decide to come to future events. If children do not learn about history, then those lessons are lost to future generations.”

As for how and why she chose the book report on President Reagan, Michaela says, "I felt that this year, I wanted to base my book report on a great American leader and Ronald Reagan was the perfect choice!”

The book she chose was Ronald Reagan by Michael Benson.

“The book did a great job of describing the many achievements of Ronald Reagan throughout his life. For example, did you know that he saved a total of 77 lives during his young lifeguard career? My teacher even commented on that being amazing! In addition to reading the biography, I learned details about President Reagan from visiting his library and attending the Fall of the Wall conference,” she shares.

Michaela says she believes it was important for her and her sister to attend the event for several reasons.

“We are proud of the many great things our country has achieved in assisting others who do not have as much freedom as we do in the United States. President Reagan thought that freedom was essential in a person’s life and he was not pleased with any sort of government that would deny freedom. It was important to me to attend this event because I agree with his point of view,” she says.

She adds that she walked away with quite a bit of knowledge.

“I learned that no matter how many books you read, and how many TV programs you watch, it’s not the same as hearing the people who knew this great person talk about him at a live event. Also, his library displays many of his personal items. Along with the honor of meeting Mrs. Reagan, I don’t think that I could have experienced anything closer than the President himself!” she says.

In terms of when Michaela gets older, she has some ideas about that, too.

“I have three dreams which I would like to accomplish when I get older: To be an author, a professional volleyball player, and a genetic scientist.”

Gianna, 8, says she had so much fun on the trip that it isn’t something she is soon to forget.

“The most exciting part was meeting the people who worked with President Reagan and especially his wife, Mrs. Reagan. When my sister and I were waiting to meet Mr. Robinson, the whole place went silent. We looked around to see what was happening and then saw Mrs. Reagan entering the floor. She had come to eat lunch with everyone at the conference. I think the people grew silent because they were being respectful of Mrs. Reagan.”

Gianna says after lunch, there were more speeches and they were standing on the end of the row of seats and Nancy Reagan began walking past them on her way to her seat.

“She stopped in front of my sister and me and smiled at us. I smiled back. I was thinking, ‘she is beautiful in her green suit.’ ”

Gianna adds that it was an important trip to make because it was a great chance to learn about President Reagan from people who actually knew him and worked with him.

As a result, Gianna learned that, “Ronald Reagan was a great man who loved America and freedom. He wanted other people in the world to be free. His speechwriter [Peter Robinson] told a story of how people in Berlin were separated from family members and weren’t free to see them because of the Berlin Wall and the government. Ronald Reagan wanted the government to give the people freedom and take the wall down.”

As for when Gianna gets older, she says she wants to be a judge.

“I think I’d make a good judge because I’m very responsible and want to keep our community and city safe.”


Debbie L. Sklar is a 20+year journalism veteran residing in Southern California, where she is a writer, columnist and editor for many local, regional and national publications. Sklar may be reached via e-mail at DebbieSklar@cox.net
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