The early years: birth through early high school
Gary Reagen was brought into this world the spring of 1949. He was born in a small Appalachian town in western North Carolina. He was the first child for his mother Mildred “Mickey”, who was only 19 years old. Very little is known about the early years of Gary, including the details regarding his father, Donald Reagan (yes, spelled Reagan). Up until recently, our family wasn’t even sure if they were married, but it has since been verified that they were. Their marriage didn’t last long, and Mickey leaves for southern Indiana where her mother Odessa was from. She left an infant Gary behind with two of her cousins who would raise him there for two years.
Mickey meets her second husband, Marvin Behrens Jr., near Fort Campbell, Kentucky where he was stationed. They marry on June 11, 1951, and somewhere around this time Mickey returns to North Carolina to get Gary. Though Marvin was not Gary’s biological father, he is the man that Gary refers to as his father. Mickey, Marvin and Gary move to Kenosha, WI where Marvin transfers to as an ROTC instructor. This would be the first of many moves for the family as Marvin’s assignments change. Mickey and Marvin have their first child together in 1952, a son also by the name of Marvin but known as “Butch”.
In 1954, Marvin is assigned to Fort Carson, CO and the family moves again. Gary likely does Kindergarten in Colorado, and another child, Leah, is born in 1955. 1955 brings another assignment and another move for the family, this time to a base near Stuttgart, Germany. Here, Gary attends 1st, 2nd and 3rd grades. His sisters, Diana and Nancy, are both born here. Marvin is then assigned to White Sands Missile Range near Las Cruces, NM in 1958, where the family moves. Gary completes 4th, 5th, 6th and starts 7th grade.
The family moves to El Paso, TX in 1961, where Gary does the rest of 7th grade through 10th grade. Marvin is diagnosed with Amyloidosis (an abnormal protein buildup in the liver) around June of 1964. The disease hospitalizes Marvin around November of 1964 and eventually leads to his death in January of 1965 at the age of 34. Prior to his death, Marvin had asked his father Marvin Sr. to move the family to Galesburg, IL near Lake Bracken, where Marvin Sr. and his wife Barb were living.
Honoring his son’s request, Marvin Sr. moves the family to Galesburg in 1965, where Gary finishes 10th grade and the rest of High School. Gary lives with Marvin Sr. and Barb off and on during this time at their home on Lake Bracken. Gary develops a love of Lake Bracken and the the big band music that Marv and Barb frequently play. He’s made a close friend in a neighbor named Terry Childers who helps incorporate him into a circle of friends.
Gary gets his first two jobs, and contrary to his character, was fired from both for silly mistakes. His third job came to be in a Hollywood-like way. Gary is talking on a street corner and is overheard by the Program Director of a local radio station walking by. He hears Gary’s uniquely deep voice and asks “how would you like a job in radio?” Thus is the beginning of Gary’s 20+ year career in radio and television. Gary is a DJ for WGIL radio playing the hits of 1966, and his love of Motown, The Beach Boys, and Simon and Garfunkel all start here. Gary also works at Gale Products with Marvin Sr. during this time.
After exploring going to one of the service academies, Gary enlists in the Army in the summer of 1967, starting with basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, MO.