I always admired President Gerald R. Ford and First Lady Betty Ford.
The couple had strong roots in Michigan, and their tenure in the White House came at a very difficult time in the history of the nation.
Through it all, the Fords remained as a steadying and calming force in the nation's capital, and President Ford is widely remembered as a graceful example of the orderly transition between presidents--even in the wake of a loss after a hard-fought election race between two men who cared deeply about our country.
I visited the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan early this past summer to check out the scene just as workers put the finishing touches on a major renovation to update the museum's exhibits and open a new 8,000-square-foot learning center at the facility to accommodate conferences and classroom-style sessions.
The $13 million museum renovation retained exhibits like re-creations of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room from Ford's time in office that remained visitors' favorite features of the facility, but it also represented a near-gutting of the museum's interior to present the Fords' story while using the latest technology to create a more immersive and interactive re-telling of the tale.
One museum exhibit spotlights Ford's relationship Willis Ward, a U of M team mate and his roommate for road games during football season. In 1934, Georgia Tech insisted they did not want to play U of M's team if it included the African-American Ward. The guy Ward called "my man Jerry" wanted to support Ward by refusing to play the game. Ward personally urged Ford to play, although Ford did so under protest. The incident strongly influenced Ford's later stands and thinking about racial prejudice. Ward and Ford remained life-long friends, and Ward became lawyer, a member of the Michigan Public Service Commission and a judge in Detroit.
The renovation is also notable for design elements that enhance the energy efficiency of the building.
You can read my story Presidential Treatment: Museum Renovation Energizes the Gerald R. Ford Story in the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Experience Michigan Magazine, a publication that appears as an insert in Chicagoland area newspapers twice a year, or read it online here.
My Experience Michigan piece included professionally produced images provided by the museum, but I did take along a camera when I visited the museum for the story and share a few candid behind-the-scenes images from the day as I watched workers put some of the final touches on the museum just prior to the building's grand re-opening festivities.
Check out some other stories I've written here about the museum over the years: Visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Paying tribute in President Gerald R. Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Betty Ford, the Nation's "First Mama".
Read more about Ford and his presidency by checking out Write it When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations with Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank, Gerald R. Ford by Douglas Brinkley and Gerald R. Ford: An Honorable Life by James Cannon. You can also read more about Betty Ford in Betty Ford: Candor and Courage in the White House by John Robert Greene.
© Dominique King 2016 All rights reserved