DIXON – A year ago this week, Dixon native Courtney Fassler Walsh's novel was a New York Times bestseller. She also has penned full-length musicals and written two books on scrapbooking.
These days, she lives in Rockford with her husband and their three children. But there's no place like the "quiet familiarity" of Dixon, she told a local crowd Friday night.
She, cancer researcher Peter Nichols and state Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, were honored at the annual Reagan Gala because they have "gone on to do great things just as Ronald Reagan did." The event was a part of Reagan Trail Days.
Walsh's debut novel, "A Sweethaven Summer," made the beststeller list, which she followed with the releases of "A Sweethaven Homecoming" and "A Sweethaven Christmas."
Walsh told an audience of about 60 people outside the Reagan Boyhood Home that the gala honor was humbling.
"I just tell stories," she said. "My stories seem to always start and end in Dixon."
The 1994 Dixon High School graduate said she always comes back to Dixon when she needs to escape the pressure of deadline. She makes a point to visit hometown favorites such as Arthur's.
The other honorees:
• Peter Nichols, a 1962 Dixon High graduate, pursued a career in medicine. He became the chief of pathology at a new cancer center and research institute at the University of Southern California. For the past 30 years, he has been a professor at the university, though he's semi-retired now.
When he was growing up, Nichols said, he was considered a "river rat," living near the river on Everett Street.
In his career, Nichols said his goal is to make cancer "a disease of the past."
"In 10 to 15 years, we'll understand genetics to at least control most cancers," he said.
• Tim Bivins, a 1971 Dixon High graduate, was the Lee County sheriff for 20 years. After that, he became a state senator.
"As sheriff, Tim kept his department under budget for all 20 years," said Tom Wadsworth, a Dixon resident who was the gala's master of ceremonies. "And as senator, he has finished all 5 of his fiscal years with money to spare in his account, which he returned to the state's coffers, coming in under budget 34 percent the last 2 years."
Bivins was the first person to be honored at the annual event who still lives in Dixon. Organizers have traditionally honored people who went on to become successful somewhere else, as Reagan did.
Bivins was self-deprecating in his remarks.
"I wasn't always the perfect child. Hopefully, the police records aren't still available," he joked.