Eight Years In The Making

January 8, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — After nearly a decade of preparation, the call finally came at 11 p.m. on Dec. 26. Bill McKendry, founder and chief creative officer of Grand Rapids advertising and marketing firm Hanon McKendry, was about to have his vacation cut short, as the wake of President Gerald R. Ford was suddenly under way.

“You prepare and prepare and prepare, and then all of a sudden, it’s time to pull it all off,” said McKendry. “We’ve done movie marketing and trade shows for clients, things with quick turnarounds. But with those, you at least know when it’s going to happen.”

After a number of successful advertising campaigns for the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Hanon McKendry was engaged eight years ago by the Gerald R. Ford Foundation to provide all of the communication materials for the funeral — funeral programs, the foundation newspaper ad detailing the event, invitations, “thank-you” cards, and the 30,000 tribute cards distributed to those viewing the casket during last week’s repose at the museum.

McKendry explained that the process was about creating materials “that were not only presidential, but personal.” All materials were personally approved by the Ford family, a great majority by the president himself. As the years passed, the feelings of the family changed, and photos, actual and honorary pallbearers, prayers, hymns and graphics followed suit. McKendry estimated the program for the funeral itself was changed 30 times prior to Ford’s death.

“Every month something new comes up,” said Renee Knott, manager of the Ford project since 2004. “It was first designed eight years ago, and things are constantly changing. It was such a big deal and big honor; we just wanted to make sure everything was perfect. We needed to make sure the materials expressed what the family wanted them to.”

One of the most significant portions of that task was the tribute cards, McKendry said, as the most public part of the process. “These were supposed to be special things, a keepsake people could take home and put in a remembrance book and actually hang onto to show that they had been there (to the visitation).”

It was important that every visitor who wanted one be provided a card, McKendry said, so great care was taken in estimating the number of people that might attend. Using data from President Ronald Reagan’s 36-hour repose in Simi Valley, Calif., it was determined that no more than 30,000 people could be processed through the repose’s security screening.

Early reports of almost 60,000 people downtown on Tuesday night worried McKendry, but the next morning, there were still visitors walking away with cards.

“It was a heartwarming moment, for me, personally, to see people walking away holding those cards,” McKendry said. “The foundation really spared no expense in this process, and everyone put a lot of effort into this.”

Much of the material, particularly those pieces that required embossing and foil stamping, were initially printed two years ago, and were kept in storage by Grand Rapids printer Gilson Graphics. Last week, those pieces went through a second print run, applying dates and other funeral specifics.

The biggest moment for Hanon McKendry to date had been the opportunity to film Mother Teresa in Washington, D.C., part of a 1996 event with President Bill Clinton. It was the first organization to record the Calcutta nun on 35mm film.    

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