By Patrick Donachie
Former First Lady Nancy Reagan, who died Sunday at the age of 94 due to congestive heart failure, was known for the many roles she played throughout her life.
She was a film actress, the first lady of California and of the United States, and an advocate for those stricken with Alzheimer’s Disease. However, to the surprise of many Queens residents, she also briefly lived in Flushing. Jose Guevara, 69, a carpenter who lived next door to Reagan’s former home, said many in the neighborhood were shocked.
“Nobody knew,” he said. “The old neighbors had an idea, but the new neighbors have no idea.”
Nancy Reagan was born on July 6, 1921 at the Sloane Hospital for Women in Washington Heights and lived with her family for two years at 149-40 Roosevelt Ave. in Flushing. Following the separation of her parents, Reagan was sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Bethesda, Md. She later moved to California in pursuit of a career in the movies, and met Ronald Reagan, then the president of the Screen Actors Guild. The two were married on March 4, 1952. Ronald Reagan was California’s governor from 1967 to 1975 and was elected as the nation’s 40th president in 1980, serving two terms.
Nancy Reagan’s former Flushing home now sits vacant, with overbrush crowding the front yard and signs of repair work on the house’s exterior. There was no indication that she once lived there and no memorials were set up outside of the house.
Guevara, who owns a carpentry shop around the corner from Reagan’s former home, said that he had not seen any visitors to the house since Reagan’s death was announced, and recalled that the owner of the house had been periodically repairing the property for three years. Guevara has lived next door to the house since he moved to Flushing from Argentina more than 25 years ago and his favorite memory of the former first family was when President Reagan signed the Immigration Control and Reform Act in 1986.
“I am very lucky Mr. Reagan signed the amnesty,” he said, stressing that Reagan’s stance was all the more notable because of the increased role immigration is playing in the discussions about the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Juan Carlos, 73, a friend of Guevara’s, has lived in Flushing since 1970 and only learned that Nancy Reagan lived on Roosevelt Avenue from the press coverage of her death. He expressed admiration for how she supported her husband when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 1994. After his death in 2004, she became an advocate for utilizing stem-cell research to find a cure for the disease.
“She stood by him. That was very important,” he said. “She was a big advocate.”
Carlos also fondly remembered the acting careers of both Reagans, noting that he particularly enjoyed Ronald Reagan’s war films.
“It was a week ago I saw a movie of his,” he said. “He seemed so young.”