The Presidential Inauguration takes place today. Donald Trump, perhaps the most controversial president-elect in history, will become the 45th president, making him the 7th person from the state of New York to hold the highest seat in the land. Michigan is one of only 17 other states to produce a U.S. president. But, Gerald R. Ford, the only Michigander to sit in the Oval Office, didn’t find his way there like most U.S. presidents.
1. Gerald R. Ford wasn’t born Gerald R. Ford. When he entered the world in Omaha, Nebraska, his birth name was Leslie Lynch King, Jr., son of Dorothy Gardner and Leslie Lynch King, Sr. When his parents divorced, his mother took him to Grand Rapids, Michigan. There she met and married Gerald Rudolph Ford. They renamed the toddler and future president, Gerald, after his stepfather, even though he was never formally adopted.
2. Ford almost played for the NFL. Ford grew up in Grand Rapids, graduating from South High School and becoming an Eagle Scout. After high school, he went to the University of Michigan, where he was a star on the football team. Ford was such a talented football player that after college, he turned down offers to play for the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers. Instead, he went on to attend law school at Yale University.
3. Ford was a decorated Naval Officer. Just months after Ford finished law school, the United States joined WW II after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Ford wanted to defend his country, so he joined the Navy. He went to sea on the Monterey, an aircraft carrier that served in the Pacific Theater. Ford earned several military awards, including 11 Bronze Stars.
4. Betty Ford was a controversial choice for a politician’s wife in 1948. After leaving the Navy, Ford returned to Grand Rapids where he married Elizabeth “Betty” Warren. Ford delayed their marriage because at the time of their engagement he was running for The House of Representatives. He was afraid voters would not approve of Warren who was a former model, dancer, and a divorcee. But it didn’t matter. He finally married her just before the election, then won what would be his first of 13 terms in Congress.
5. Ford was a popular Congressman. He was well-respected and liked by members from both parties, because of his friendly personality. During his tenure in Congress, he became the House Minority Leader for the Republicans. He didn’t know it at the time, but Ford’s entry into Congress took him down a road that led indirectly to the White House.
6. Two different scandals lead to Ford becoming president. Spiro Agnew, Vice President under Richard Nixon, was forced to resign from office in 1973 when he was investigated for numerous criminal acts, including tax evasion and extortion. At the advice of Republican Congressmen, Nixon chose Ford as his new Vice President.
7. The Watergate scandal was just getting started when Ford became V.P. Then Watergate blew up. Nixon was also forced to resign, leaving Gerald R. Ford to become the 38th president of the United States in 1974.
8. Ford didn’t want to run for reelection in 1976. Ford’s years in office were difficult. During that time, he pardoned Nixon, preventing the former president from serving time for any crimes he may have committed. The decision was an unpopular one with many Americans, but Ford felt it was a necessary step to close a painful chapter in American history. He only ran for reelection after his party convinced him to do so. However, he lost the 1976 election to Democrat Jimmy Carter.
9. Gerald Ford and his wife Betty are buried on the grounds of his presidential library in Grand Rapids. Visitors to the museum learn about the difficult, controversial years that brought Ford to the presidency. The museum also teachers who Gerald Ford was as a person and features exhibits about the highlights of both his life and the life of his wife. The importance of Democratic Citizenship was highly valued by Ford and is the main message the museum seeks to spread.