Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Michigan

Who do you thank for the ability to grab quick cash from a machine in the mall or convenient store?  President Gerald R. Ford is who.  He was the man who signed legislation making it legal to get cash from an ATM.  This is just one of the many factoids about Ford’s presidency that you discover at his Grand Rapids, Michigan Presidential Museum.  

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Of the nine official presidential museums we have visited this was one of our favorites.  The recent $13 million renovation (completed in 2016) has been credited with a renewed interest in the museum and an appeal to younger generations thanks to modern engaging technology.  The museum is bold with brighter color, giant pictures, interactive video screens and lots of audio technology and recordings revealing key decisions of Ford’s presidency.  When presidential museums can be static and boring, this one is not. 

Gerald R. Ford was born as Leslie Lynch King, Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska to Leslie and Dorothy King on July 14, 1913.  When her son is two months old Dorothy flees the abusive relationship she is in and relocates to live with her parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  In 1917 she finds love with Gerald R. Ford, Sr. a respective businessman and renames her son Gerald R. Ford, Jr.  Young “Jerry” was active in scouting and a sterling football player named to the “All City” and “All State” teams.  He attended the University of Michigan, studied Business Administration and played center for the Wolverines, where in he is awarded the Most Valuable Player on the 1934 team and plays in the East-West Shrine Game and the College All-Star Game.  His success on the football field earned him contracts with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions. 

Ford declined both professional football contracts to pursue his dream of going to law school at Yale.  After law school, he has a brief stint in a law firm in Grand Rapids before enlisting in the Navy as the U.S enters into World War II.  Ford shined in the Navy as a leader and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and highly decorated.  After the war, he returns briefly to his law firm and became interested in Michigan Republican politics.

Fast forward some 27 years and through Ford’s impressive 13 terms serving the Republican Party in Congress.  In August 1973, Ford is appointed Vice-President by Nixon after Spiro Agnew resigns his post as Vice-President under investigation for accepting bribes and income tax evasion while Governor of Maryland.  During the eleven months Ford serves as Vice-President, the White House, Congress, and the American people are in turmoil as Nixon is being investigated in the growing Watergate scandal.  On August 8, 1974 Nixon resigns in a televised address and the next day Ford is sworn in as the 38th President. 

Ford stepped onto the presidential stage with major issues stirring in the American people's minds and hearts.  Nixon brought the office to disgrace and a distrust of government to Americans, there needed to be closure to the Vietnam War, inflation rose uncontrollably as the cost of living was increasing yet more workers were losing their jobs, an energy crisis was in the midst, and the Democrats controlled the Congress. 

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One of the most important decisions Ford made was pardoning Richard Nixon.  The move was controversial and divisive.  The story is told though engaging video explaining the Watergate scandal and audio of Ford’s radio address to the nation explaining he pardoned Nixon.  The dilemma for Ford was this - a pardon would jeopardize his political standing, but, forgoing the pardon would risk the country not moving forward and addressing other pressing needs that affected American’s daily lives – like an energy crisis and rising inflation.  His words “My fellow Americans, our national nightmare is over.” resonated and his decision will forever be judged but it put an end to the dilemma.

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Another key point of Ford’s presidency was finally ending American occupation in Vietnam.  The Fall of Saigon (the South Vietnam capital) was imminent as the North Vietnamese gained key strongholds in the city.  Preceding that Ford ordered the largest helicopter evacuation in history.  With all the Americans safely out of the city, Ford turned his attention to the plight of the South Vietnamese people.  Ford urged Congress to authorize a $722 million humanitarian aid package to assist the beleaguered South Vietnamese who were sure to suffer at the hands of the North Vietnamese.  He was appalled that Congress refused to help and persisted until they authorized the 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act which appropriated $455 million toward the costs of assisting the settlement of Indochinese refugees in America. In all, 130,000 Vietnamese refugees came to the United States in 1975 followed by thousands more that escaped in the years that followed.  The museum houses the original stairs that were used to board helicopters during Operation Frequent Wind where so many people walked to freedom.

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Ford and his wife Betty raised four kids in the White House and their story is told as well.  There is an exhibit dedicated to the life and contributions of Betty Ford.  She championed women’s rights and equality and encouraged her husband to appoint women to powerful political roles such as his Cabinet and the Supreme Court.  When she acknowledged her alcohol and drug abuse, she became a face of so many American women struggling with addiction. 

Ford spent 895 days fulfilling the Office of the President – the shortest of any other President – and the only person to serve as Vice-President and President without being elected.  He survived two assassination attempts and lived to be 93.  Ford was awarded many medals and awards for his service to the United States.  

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A little interesting fact relating to us.  Betsy met Ford in 2001 when she received an award from the Silicon Valley-based Tech Museum of Innovation.  Ford was the keynote speaker presiding over the first year the museum was honoring what they dubbed as “Technology Benefiting Humanity” that recognized technology specialists who “improved the quality of life around the globe.”  Pretty impressive award if you ask me.  The competition was amazingly talented and forward thinking.  More than 1,000 people attended the black-tie ceremony and, to be honest, we were a little nervous.  Huge screens projected short films highlighting the work by the 25 finalists whittled down from more than 390 applicants from individuals and organizations around the globe.  Categories included health, education, environment, economic development, and equality.  Other winners included a doctor who developed socketless prosthetic limbs that weigh and cost less than those commonly used.  The health award went to a professor working to identify genes that are essential to surviving the parasite that causes malaria.  A South African company won the education award for their development of a wind-up solar powered radio that is used in disaster relief and education initiatives in Africa.  And Betsy’ won the $50,000 environment prize for “innovative applications of technology to preserve biodiversity” (which she donated to her research program at the Audubon Nature Institute’s Center for Research of Endangered Species in New Orleans).   Just one of the many awards she received during her successful career, I might add!




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