In The Wake

January 8, 2007
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Like much of the wake of President Gerald R. Ford, the motorcade that shuttled the funeral procession through Grand Rapids was planned years in advance. But as with several other key ceremony components, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

“We’d have a meeting every year or so for the last five years, and every time his health would falter, we’d call up and ask for 25 to 30 cars,” said Jim Hayden, general manager of Dan Pfeiffer Automotive Group. “When the president did pass away, both manufacturers (Ford and GM) were closed down.”

“It was tough; the factories shut down from three or four days before Christmas until (the day of the funeral),” added John Leese, owner of Harvey Automotive. “All kinds of cars were sitting in the yards, but we couldn’t get to any of them.”

To further complicate matters, all vehicles needed to be handed over to the military honor guard for inspection on the Saturday before the New Year — less than four days after Ford’s death.

Leese had kept Cadillac management apprised of the Ford situation over the past few years, so the zone chief had been expecting his cell phone to ring that Wednesday morning.

With Harvey Automotive half a dozen vehicles short, General Motors proved a central player in the motorcade. It pulled a driver and a car hauler off of vacation, and dispatched six vehicles from other parts of the state. GM also provided the two Cadillac hearses for the funeral, making Grand Rapids’ ceremony the only funeral service to use models with the current body style. The California and Washington, D.C., services both used outdated models.

(Side note: The second hearse was not a “decoy” for would-be-assailants, but rather a backup. There were several cars in the convoy empty except for drivers for the same reason.)

Harvey turned over 11 cars — Cadillac sedans and Escalades — plus two more off the lot. Pfeiffer had its 11 Lincoln Towncars and Navigators on the lot, but was unprepared for a call an hour after it turned over that crop asking for two more. (Had the operator not forgotten to turn off the switchboard at closing time, the call would never had gotten through.)

The result was an amethyst purple car hidden within the black convoy. There were other non-black cars by design, as security officers placed dignitaries in those vehicles to mark their position in the motorcade.

**No truth to the rumor that CNN bought the house directly across the street from Grace Episcopal. Its owner, Doug Oosterman, was told by his military liaison to be prepared for cash offers from media outlets to perch in from windows and the roof, but none came.

The military did set up a flatbed truck/portable media stand in his front yard at 1824 Hall St. SE, but he didn’t mind one bit. Of the roughly 10,000 people who surrounded the church during the funeral, only credentialed media and security personnel were allowed on his lawn. At the duplex he owns next door, the grass was 40-people deep with spectators.

**Other quiet funeral participants worth noting include Source One Digital in Muskegon, which printed all the signage for the funeral, and the Downtown Alliance, which called off its maintenance crew’s New Year holiday to spiff up downtown.

One of the largest sacrifices was made by Bob Sullivan, the proprietor of the Days Inn at 310 Pearl St. NW, the only business located within the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum security zone. It had been rumored that the hotel was filled with dignitaries related to the funeral, but it was actually less than half full, as the city of Grand Rapids cordoned off its every access point. It did allow cars to pass the barricade on Front Avenue by way of Fulton Street.

“They barricaded our front entrance and didn’t say anything to us,” Sullivan said. “I loved Gerald Ford, and would do anything to help him, but I don’t think they should have treated us the way they did.”

BTW: He sold the hotel last week.

Outside of the barricade, the Pearl Street Burger King and Big Boy restaurants saw incredibly increased business, and the latter extended its hours. On the other side, the Amway Grand Plaza also saw brisk business, serving as the staging point for the wake.

**Normally a city that takes great pains to put its residents in bed on time, sleeping peacefully, Grand Rapids was for a day last week a city that didn’t sleep, as thousands of people crossed the Grand River in the predawn hours to view Ford’s remains.

In preparation for a large commemorative section in the March issue of sister publication Grand Rapids Magazine, the Business Journal was on hand for the repose’s latest hours.

Leaving the museum at 5 a.m. Wednesday was Angie Karl, and her father, Doug, in line since 2 a.m. Angie Karl first went through the then five-hour line with a friend at 8:30 p.m., only to hop back in line when her father got off the second shift at Spartan Stores.

“It’s part of history, having a president from Grand Rapids: that might happen again, but I doubt it’ll be in my lifetime,” said Karl, 29. Joan and Ken Church, a couple in their late 60s in line behind the Karls, said the same thing — about the Midwest. They drove from their home in Antioch, a Chicago suburb, to pay their respects. Joan met Ford at a campaign stop in 1976, where Betty Ford returned years later to help launch Lamb’s Farm, an attraction for and community of the developmentally disabled.

Also on hand was Ernst & Young Managing Partner Dave Hoogendoorn, who made it through the line in a brisk 90 minutes with sons Josh and Garrett. The line moved more quickly as the day went on.

**Of particular interest in the Business Journal newsroom was a Jan. 2 Wall Street Journal article headlined “In Grand Rapids, Fixer-Upper Leads To Unusual Bond.” The story about Ford’s boyhood home on Union Avenue SE was written by Janet Adamy, a former GRBJ intern who at first wanted a career in magazine journalism, but “settled” for the newspaper. Her father, Eric Adamy, owns Adamy + Co. PC.    

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