By Katie Poedtke
From Thursday April 29 through Saturday May 1, 2010, Young America’s Foundation brought 15 of the Conservative Movement’s leading student activists from across the country together in Santa Barbara, CA for a weekend of rejuvenation, celebration, and camaraderie. I was honored to be one of those in attendance and can confidently say that the Club 100 Reagan Ranch Retreat was an experience that none of us will soon forget.
On our first night in the beautiful El Capitan Canyon, we settled into our cozy cabins and started getting to know our like-minded new friends over a barbecue. Later, Southern California talk radio host Mark Larson joined us to discuss the critical importance of challenging leftists with the simple, often-stifling question of “Why?” when they emptily protest conservative ideals or public figures. He also emphasized the value of traveling, of seeing controversies with our own eyes, in our efforts to combat liberal bias and downright lies. Ann McElhinney, writer and producer of Not Evil Just Wrong, also joined us that evening, and, to our delight, stayed up late with the whole gang as we discussed our experiences and debated differing viewpoints around a bonfire.
Friday morning, Young America’s Foundation Vice President Patrick Coyle facilitated a discussion of our activism projects and strategies, and together, we brainstormed ideas for new nationwide and campus-specific initiatives. It was thrilling to learn how we have such diversity of approaches to similar struggles on campus, and this intimate session was invaluable for the inspiration and tips we learned from each other. Then, Ann McElhinney rejoined us to present more specifically her experiences of investigating environmental extremists and the devastating consequences of many “green” initiatives –initiatives that, during Q&A, we realized run rampant on all of our campuses.
Next on the agenda was a private reception with none other than Karl Rove! On the roof of the Reagan Ranch Center in downtown Santa Barbara, each of us had the opportunity to meet “the Architect” and have our copies of Courage & Consequence personally signed. I told him that my group at Fordham is working to bring him to our campus next fall, and he said he’s been looking forward to the event since he saw our petition for the event on Twitter. Downstairs, we had prime seating at the Roundtable luncheon, where Rove was the celebrated speaker, giving his compelling account of the events of September 11, 2001 from the eyes of President Bush’s right hand man.
Later that day, we enjoyed breathtaking views of the coastal mountain region during a horseback ride at the Circle Bar B ranch. If anyone was still questioning at this point why President Reagan so loved his Rancho del Cielo escape, this ride made it stunningly clear. Our appreciation for Reagan’s leadership and legacy was kicked in to high gear that night as Kirby Wilbur, longtime conservative radio personality and director of Americans for Prosperity, Washington State, shared some of the most inspiring stories and entertaining anecdotes about the Gipper.
Our weekend culminated in our visit to Rancho del Cielo bright and early on Saturday morning. As our superbly knowledgeable tour guide Ana Lightle, took us through the ranch home, the tack barn, and the secret service command post, she gave us a unique understanding of who Reagan was as a man, husband, and father, and how that allowed him to do what did he as President. The tour ended atop “Western White House” helipad, overlooking the hills and valleys of Santa Ynez mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and all of downtown Santa Barbara, and we joined in President Reagan’s admiration of this fantastic, refreshing place.
Less describable in words than our celebrated company and the stunning environs around us, are the instant and enduring bonds formed between each of the Club 100 members. Despite our incredible similarities on points of passion and leadership, we recognized so much that we could learn from each other in discussing past endeavors and moving forward together. THANK YOU to the Young America’s Foundation for making this new, nationwide network of reenergized young conservative activists and friends possible.
Katie Poedtke is a conservative activist at Fordham University.
Learn more about Club 100 and how you can attend the Reagan Ranch Retreat for top conservative activists in 2011.