This story was originally published in The World-Herald on Nov. 26, 1986.
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In a brief and emotional appearance Tuesday at Boys Town, first lady Nancy Reagan told how she suffered through the hurt and loneliness of a broken home before finding happiness in "a normal family."
Mrs. Reagan's voice cracked, she took long pauses and tears welled in her eyes as she recalled her early childhood problems during a seven-minute speech to 430 Boys Town students in a hushed audience of more than 1,000.
Speaking in the Music Hall, the president's wife singled out the individual Boys Town residents: "I'm saying this to each one of you alone; I'm saying it just to you, and I hope you'll always remember it. I know how good you are inside, and I would be proud to call you my own."
Mrs. Reagan's words and actions made the young people feel that the first lady really cared, said Monica White, 11, and Earis B. Hopkins Jr., 17, the mayor of Boys Town.
The two students were among six youngsters who sat with Mrs. Reagan during a luncheon. Others in the luncheon crowd of 300 staff members, donors and civic leaders watched Mrs. Reagan's speech on television monitors.
"I didn't want her to leave, " said Miss White, who presented roses to the first lady between her speech and the lunch.
"She like really was concerned about Boys Town, " Hopkins said of the luncheon conversation. "She didn't have to come or care."
Miss White said she was surprised and moved when Mrs. Reagan told of how she had to live with an aunt and uncle when her actress mother was away and her father left the family. Miss White said she and her brother came to Boys Town under similar circumstances.
Among those at the luncheon were Gov.-elect Kay Orr, U.S. Sen. Edward Zorinsky, D-Neb., Rep. Hal Daub of Omaha and Mayor Boyle.
Mrs. Reagan told the luncheon group that she wanted to find out more about Boys Town, rather than focus on national problems, Hopkins said.
The first lady did not acknowledge reporters' questions about the resignation of Vice Adm. John Poindexter as national security adviser and the possibility of other administration resignations or firings.
National observers have viewed Mrs. Reagan as an influential adviser to her husband, particularly on personnel matters.
During Mrs. Reagan's speech at the Boys Town auditorium, where she was honored with the Father Flanagan Award for service to youth, she told the audience, "Boys Town is your fresh start."
Mrs. Reagan said that she was honored by the award but that "the reason I'm here today is not because of the award but because of you. There was a time when I didn't quite know where I belonged either, " she said, recalling her own broken family life.
She said her actress-mother was often away and her father left the family, leaving her for a time with an aunt and uncle.
"I believe in you, " she told the youths. "No matter what you've done, if you work at it, you can be free of your troubles."
No matter what pain or hurt the youngsters have experienced, Mrs. Reagan said, "Believe me, drugs aren't the answer. They'll only make the pain worse in the long run."
In welcoming Mrs. Reagan to Boys Town, the Rev. Val J. Peter, executive director, said she "has used her office, in the best sense, to help make every American own the drug problem. It's not somebody else's problem. It's my problem. Yours, too."
Peter said Mrs. Reagan's goal, to create an intolerance of drug abuse, is in the spirit of the Rev. Edward J. Flanagan, Boys Town's founder.
Flanagan would approve of the way Mrs. Reagan is trying to "change the way America reacts to drugs: from apathy to anger to outrage, " Peter said.
At Boys Town, Peter said, the approach to fighting drugs is to "just say no."
Mrs. Reagan arrived at Omaha's Eppley Airfield at 11:11 a.m. on an Air Force C-9 jet and departed about 3 p.m. for the West Coast.
As part of her campaign against drug and alcohol abuse, she has traveled more than 100,000 miles and visited 57 cities, 29 states and seven countries.
The Boys Town award citation recognizes "her indispensable and leading role in successfully awakening national interest in and understanding of the incredible pain and price drugs are exacting on our country."
She is the 10th recipient of the Father Flanagan Award for public service.
In addition to the award, Mrs. Reagan also was presented with a large box of cookies baked by Boys Town students and a poster of what a grade school art class thought the White House looked like at Thanksgiving.