On September 1, 1980, Emil and Mary Petri hosted a Labor Day picnic to remember. Their guests included Republican Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan and Michigan Governor William Milliken. (That’s Mary Petri seated in the middle, between the two.)
In the original Detroit News report, Emil Petri noted that he “had been approached by friends in the Republican party” about hosting the barbecue. The Petris agreed. On the Friday before the party, they learned that Reagan and Milliken would also appear.
Emil was an Allen Park steelworker who had been laid off earlier in the year. The economy was in a downturn, and many of Petri’s neighbors were also unemployed. The blue-collar neighborhood had traditionally been a Democratic stronghold. Reagan listened to the neighbor’s stories as he munched a hot dog and sipped a Stroh’s Light.
Reagan gained at least one vote: Mary Petri’s. While Emil identified himself as a Republican, his wife had traditionally voted Democrat. After the party, she declared that she’d be voting for Reagan that year. “This wasn’t staged,” she said of their encounter. “Nothing was held back.”
Reagan and Milliken both made personal contributions to the Petris’ picnic. Reagan donated a hunk of kielbasa, while Milliken brought some potato salad.
The Archives of Michigan contains many photographs of state and national political figures. The Archives also houses Michigan Executive Office records, while the private papers of many governors (including William Milliken) can be accessed at the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library (http://www.umich.edu/~bhl/). Those interested in Ronald Reagan can visit the web site of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/). Finally, Michigan History magazine’s September/October 2004 issue is a collector’s edition spotlighting Michigan politics, and William Milliken is among the personalities examined.