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Reagan pastor Michael Wenning dies

MISSION VIEJO, Calif. -- The Rev. Michael Wenning, who was Ronald and Nancy Reagan's longtime pastor at Los Angeles' Bel Air Presbyterian Church and presided over the 40th president's moving sunset burial, has died. He was 75.

Wenning died from leukemia and kidney failure Tuesday at his Mission Viejo home, his wife, Freda, said.

The Reagans had attended Bel Air Presbyterian in the Santa Monica Mountains for decades, dating back to when Reagan was governor of California.

Wenning, who was pastor of the 2,500-member church from 1995 to 2001, regularly visited Reagan's home and Century City office when the Alzheimer's disease-stricken former president stopped appearing in public.

Reagan was 93 when he died on June 5, 2004.

It was Wenning who conducted the nationally televised hilltop burial service at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. And it was Wenning who comforted the anguished former first lady.

"Everyone wanted to put their arms around Nancy, and here was a man holding her on behalf of the nation and just comforting her," Freda Wenning told The Orange County Register. "He was like that. He was very comforting. That sort of captures who he was."

Nancy Reagan, who turns 90 on July 6, expressed her sorrow in a statement Wednesday. "I was very sorry to learn today of the death of Rev. Michael Wenning," she said. "Bel Air Presbyterian Church was always an important part of our lives, and I was grateful to Michael, as a former pastor, for contributing to Ronnie's final services."

A native of South Africa, Wenning (pronounced VEN'-eeng) was born in Capetown on July 5, 1935. He moved to the United States and received a master's of divinity at Texas Christian University and a master's in psychology and counseling at New York University. He returned to South Africa and became pastor of a Presbyterian church in Durban in 1969. Wenning and his family returned to the United States in 1977 so he could lead a Presbyterian church in Pittsburgh. He then moved to Southern California and was pastor at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Hills from 1986 to 1995.

Geneva Presbyterian pastor Rod Kingston says Wenning will be eulogized at a public memorial service at the 850-seat church Sunday afternoon. His body was cremated. -- AP

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