Our hometown’s hero

Gerald R. Ford, Jr. is pictured in the bottom row, center in this collage of the 1930 Grand Rapids All City Football Team

This President’s Day we examine the legacy of Gerald R. Ford Jr. with some interesting facts about the nation’s 38th president, who grew up in Grand Rapids. 

Unelected:  Ford was the only person to serve as president without being elected to either the presidency or the vice presidency. After President Richard M. Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew was found guilty of tax evasion, Agnew resigned. Nixon then appointed Ford as his new Vice President. When it came to light that Nixon was involved in a scandal known as Watergate, Nixon resigned, which elevated Ford to President of the United States.  He served from Aug. 9, 1974 to Jan. 20 1977. 

Junior: Gerald R. Ford was given the name “Leslie Lynch King, Jr.”  at the time of his birth on July 14, 1913 and later took the name of his stepfather, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., who had raised him since infancy. Ford’s name wasn’t legally changed from his birth name until 1935.

Affluent Grandfather: Ford was born in the home of his biological grandfather, Charles Henry King, a wealthy Omaha businessman, railroad tycoon and banker who founded several cities in Nebraska and Wyoming. His fortune was estimated at $20 million and at one time he was known as the wealthiest man in Wyoming.

Strong and courageous mother: Ford’s mother left his father due to allegations of abuse about two weeks after he was born. She brought her infant son to live with her parents who had relocated from the Chicago area to Grand Rapids. Their home was on what is now called Prospect Ave. 

Family controversy: Ford’s biological father refused to pay child support. Instead, Ford’s wealthy grandfather made the child support payments (though some reports claim that any payments from either Ford’s biological father or grandfather didn’t come until later and a settlement was paid in bulk).

Ford family business:  Ford Paint & Varnish was the company owned by Ford’s stepfather. It was on the corner of Crosby and Elizabeth streets. A search for the records states it was incorporated on Nov. 1, 1929 and dissolved on July 15, 1998.

High school: Ford attended South High on Hall Street alongside students from working class backgrounds, including minorities. Ford began his high school career there in September 1925. Ford began to take college-prep courses and joined the debate team. He graduated from South High in 1931.

Eagle Scout: Ford would eventually become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in the Boy Scouts, and was connected to the organization for the remainder his life.

Estranged father: Ford met his biological father once. The man came looking for him at “Bill’s,” a hamburger shop where Ford worked in High School. They had lunch at the Cheri Inn.

Un-Republican: Ford ran as a Progressive in his high school’s student council presidential campaign and lost. 

MVP:  Ford won a scholarship to the University of Michigan, which he attended 1931-1935. Ford was on the football team and took the Wolverines to the national championships for three consecutive years. In 1934, Ford was named the team’s most valuable player.

Academia vs. Sports: Ford turned down a career in the National Football League and instead took a coaching position at Yale. Ford was admitted in the spring of 1938 to Yale Law School. That year he was also promoted to the position of junior varsity head football coach at Yale.

Young isolationist: While attending Yale Law School, Ford signed a petition that was the inspiration for the America First Committee, a group determined to keep the U.S. out of World War II.

Duty: Gerald Ford enlisted in the U.S. Navy, served in the United States Naval Reserve during World War II and rose to the rank of lieutenant commander by the time he left the service in 1946.

Bravery: Lieutenant Commander Gerald Ford received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

Ford’s partner: Ford opened up a Law Firm in Grand Rapids after college with Philip Buchen, the son of a state senator from Wisconsin. Buchen later served in his cabinet. 

His leading lady: In 1947, Gerald R. Ford, Jr. met Betty Warren (neé Bloomer). They eventually married and raised four children together. Betty Ford left a legacy of her own. Time Magazine named her its “Person of the Year” in 1975. The popular first lady went on to become an author and spoke openly about dependency on prescription medication and alcoholism, and she became a pioneer in drug and alcohol treatment.  

Political career: Ford served 25 years as a US representative from the 5th congressional district in Michigan. In the last nine years he was House Minority leader. 

Golf: Ford was passionate about golf according to his niece, Linda Burba, the daughter of Ford’s youngest half-brother, Richard Ford. Burba was interviewed for the Gerald R. Ford Oral History Project on May 8, 2009  and told her interviewer, Richard Norton Smith that liberal Democrat Tip O’Neill, who was Speaker of the House told her: “Your uncle and I may be adversaries Monday through Friday, but we have never been enemies, and on Saturday morning at nine o’clock, we’re at the first tee at Burning Tree for golf.” Burba also said she heard Ford say that all he ever wanted to be was Speaker of the House.

Shortest presidency: Ford’s 895 day-long presidency is the shortest in U.S. history for any president who did not die in office. Despite that, he left a legacy that will not be ignored by history. 

Foreign policy:  The Helsinki Accords were signed during his administration, which reduced cold war tensions with the U.S.S.R. 

JFK assassination committee: Ford was appointed to the Warren Commission by Lyndon B Johnson, a task force set up to investigate the shooting of President John F. Kennedy.

Recession fighter: Ford implemented a tax cut which was targeted at low and moderate income families, which is credited as having helped greatly in getting the economy out of the recession. 

Inflation reducer: Ford stimulated economic growth by increasing spending and cutting taxes. There are indications that it was largely due to his policies that the inflation rate fell to 4.8% at the time he left office, having decreased the inflation rate to less than half.

Unemployment advocate: As unemployment rose dramatically, the Ford administration provided compensation to a higher percentage of unemployed than at any other time from 1967 onward, providing unemployment compensation to 81 percent of unemployed workers (April 1975). 

No foreign oil: Ford recommended to the Congress the first comprehensive national energy program specifically designed to reduce dependence on foreign oil.

A friend to farmers: Ford’s farm policy was marked by non interference and during his time in office, net farm income in the three years of the Ford presidency was increased by more than double. It averaged $28.5 billion as compared to $12.9 billion average during the previous three years.

Honors: Among other awards and medals, President Bill Clinton presented Gerald Ford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States. In 2001, he was presented with the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award for his controversial decision to grant a presidential pardon to Richard Nixon.

Long Life: At the time of his death in 2006, Ford was 93, and had been the oldest living president to date. Today, Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in 1976 by a narrow victory of 297 electoral college votes to Ford’s 240, holds that record at the age of 98.







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