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Published: Sunday, 6/6/2004

Sylvania-area pair recall chance encounter in '97

Yakov Ravin, right, took a photo of his grandson, Rostik Denenburg, and former President Reagan when they met in 1997. Yakov Ravin, right, took a photo of his grandson, Rostik Denenburg, and former President Reagan when they met in 1997.

When Rostik Denenburg and his grandfather happened upon former President Reagan at a Los Angeles park in 1997, both recognized the elderly man - but for different reasons.

Mr. Denenburg, then 12, sat smiling on a park bench next to Mr. Reagan for a photograph, aware that he was meeting a former leader of the United States.

But his grandfather, Yakov Ravin, a Ukranian immigrant, was more aware - and thankful - for Mr. Reagan's involvement in ending the Cold War.

"When I met President Reagan, I said, 'Thank you, Mr. President, for what you did, for destroying this empire of evil,' and he said, 'Oh, that is my job,'●" said Mr. Ravin, 71. "Now Russia is on its way to democracy."

Mr. Ravin yesterday recalled that July day in California. The photo that he proudly took years earlier was shown on nationwide television. It is believed to be the last public picture taken of the ailing Mr. Reagan, then 86.

Seven years after that chance encounter, the framed photograph is displayed prominently in his Sylvania Township home. And he credits the two-term president for making his travel from the former Soviet Union to the United States possible.

Mr. Denenburg, now 18, said he treasures the story of his encounter with President Reagan.

A sophomore at the University of Toledo studying medicine, Mr. Denenburg was a student at Timberstone Junior High at the time and had recently moved from Kiev.

Admitting that he was not fully aware of the former president's role in helping bring down the Iron Curtain when he met him, Mr. Denenburg said he has since learned of Mr. Reagan's importance.

"I didn't talk to him, but we did have an opportunity to thank him for what he did politically for the Soviet Union," Mr. Denenburg said. "I didn't know it as much back then because I was only 12, but when I learned more about it, I understood."

Yesterday both men spoke fondly of their encounter.

"Me and my grandson are happy that we saw President Reagan, we talked to him and we sit near him, and now the picture of President Reagan and my grandson is in the living room on the wall," said Mr. Ravin, speaking with an accent that has barely softened. "He was a great president and in my opinion, he was a great man."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-724-6076.

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