Ford Foundation's 'Next Stage'

January 8, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Living on a graduate student’s budget, Heidi Matiyow is happy to have an $800 grant from the Gerald R. Ford Foundation to travel from her Boston home to research her dissertation in Ann Arbor.

“Federal Policy and the Shaping of Educational Programs for Delinquent and Troubled Youth” is Matiyow’s topic as a doctoral candidate in the University of Michigan’s School of Education. She hopes to become a professional researcher with the long-term goal of improving such programs. She’ll be looking at legislative case files, White House central files, and the late President Gerald R. Ford’s papers from his congressional career at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor.

“I am now living in Boston and so now as a doctoral student I am doing full-time work on my dissertation, and so I have a very limited income that consists of my fellowship stipend,” Matiyow said. “So it would have been pretty prohibitive to travel back and forth to different sites without this type of assistance.”

Scholars from across the U.S. and around the world receive travel stipends from the foundation, which supports the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Library. The institution is one, but the locations are split between Grand Rapids and the University of Michigan.

In 2005, the Gerald R. Ford Foundation handed out $35,325 in travel grants to 22 researchers.

With the death of Ford, his family has requested that memorial donations be made to the foundation. The foundation relied on net assets of $18.8 million in 2005 to support programs, exhibits and research conducted at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Library, according to an Internal Revenue Service document. Operational costs for presidential museums and libraries are provided by the federal National Archives and Records Administration.

The foundation is guided by a 56-member board of trustees that reaches from Washington, D.C., to the shores of Lake Michigan to the Pacific Coast, gathering local businessmen and national political glitterati into a single group. The affiliation with the foundation allowed, for example, Seymour Padnos, the retired owner of Padnos Iron & Metal Co., to meet former treasury secretary Paul O’Neill.

“I would like to think he (Ford) was the kind of man who remembered his friends, the little people, not politically so much as a human being,” said Padnos, who campaigned for Ford. “When I would attend the Ford trustees meetings on a number of occasions, he made an effort to introduce me to prominent people like Paul O’Neill, who’d been treasurer of the U.S., who I made no difference to whatsoever.

“I was a nobody in their company. It was nice of him as a human being to be so kind.”

Hank Meijer, co-chairman of retailer Meijer Inc., said the foundation now has the potential “to build on his (Ford’s) legacy and create a vibrant center of educational activities in Grand Rapids. The foundation really exists to support the Ford museum and library,” said Meijer, whose father, Frederik Meijer, is a trustee along with company President Mark Murray.

“When we’re able to help sponsor a lecture series or an exhibition, that’s something that benefits the whole community as a regional attraction and the best kind of civic lesson. It comes really out of our homage to President Ford.”

The trustees were drawn together again by the sad day of Ford’s funeral and burial overlooking the Grand River near his museum last week. Former Ambassador to Italy Peter Secchia of Grand Rapids hosted a breakfast at the Amway Grand Plaza. A reception there followed Wednesday’s final ceremony.

Trustees were well-represented among Ford’s eulogists and honorary pallbearers and others who played a role in last week’s ceremonies in Grand Rapids. Local honorary pall bearers included Marty Allen, Richard DeVos, David Frey, Robert Hooker, Steve Van Andel, Frederik Meijer and Secchia.

Pallbearers also included Ford’s brother, Richard, the last survivor of four sons, and University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman. Iconic Michigan football coach Bo Schembechler had been invited as an honorary pallbearer. He died in November. A U-M blanket was placed on the pew where Schembechler would have been seated.

The entire board of trustees meets annually during the first week of June, usually in Washington, Secchia said. They receive no compensation, but many have been generous donors to the foundation.

“The people in Grand Rapids more or less run the foundation and make the decisions, and the executive committee is basically the decision-making group,” he said. Yet the well-known names among the trustees eagerly provide support, responding to little more than a phone call, he said.

“They are a very dedicated group of people interested in preserving the legacy for this president,” Secchia said.

During his eulogy at Grace Episcopal Church, former President Jimmy Carter said he and Ford commiserated about raising money for their presidential museums and libraries. The Carter Center is the only presidential library without a foundation. However, others have nonprofit foundations that support programs.

For example, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation for 2005 reported net assets to the IRS of $145.3 million, almost eight times the assets of the Gerald R. Ford Foundation. The Reagan foundation also reported total revenue of $31.3 million. The George Bush Presidential Foundation in College Station, Texas, reported 2004 net assets at $31.3 million and $10.9 million in revenue. Ford’s foundation reported $1.2 million total revenue for 2005.

Income for the foundations comes from a variety of sources, but investment income and donations make up the bulk.

The Gerald R. Ford Foundation awards $5,000 annually to journalists who’ve published distinguished work about the presidency and national defense. In the wake of public school budget cuts, the foundation created a fund that covers field trip expenses to the museum for students in Kent and Ottawa counties. Secchia said the foundation now is working with photographer David Hume Kennerly to create a “coffee table book” from his work chronicling Ford’s life.

Anyone can join Friends of Ford, the membership organization that supports the foundation. Memberships range from $35 to $1,000 and up.

Secchia, who has been involved with the museum since its inception, said with Ford’s passing, he is keenly aware of the need to sustain the foundation and the institution it supports into the future.

“Now we move into the next stage: how we keep this thing going after he’s gone,” Secchia said. “I’m going to be working harder for his legacy.”

Memorial Contributions

The Ford family requests memorials be made to the Gerald R. Ford Foundation, 303 Pearl St. NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503-5353. The foundation supports the Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor. For more information, visit www.geraldfordmemorial.com or www.geraldrfordfoundation.org on the Web.

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