Arts & Entertainment and Travel & Tourism

‘Ford is doing well’ in revamped museum

Gala and grand reopening shine new light on presidential legacy.

June 3, 2016
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This week the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum reopens, promising visitors a “brand new museum.”

The exhibition space was stripped down to its cement floors and outside walls and entirely rebuilt, said Joseph Calvaruso, executive director of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.

Visitors to the museum, 303 Pearl St. NW, will now encounter a more vibrant space and several never-before-exhibited objects, plus access to digital archives through interactive exhibits.

“What you are looking at is a whole new environment,” Calvaruso said. “The look and the feel are so much different. You walk around, and it’s bright, airy; it kind of pops.

“The old museum had no interactive exhibits. We have eight interactive exhibits, which really allows you to dig deeper.”

Calvaruso said digitization also is underway, allowing visitors to access more materials online.

“The story behind every object the museum has is available on the museum’s website, and that’s a way for people, when they leave here, to be able to continue that research process and to be able to continually learn.”

The renovation is the museum’s second since it opened in 1981.

Don Holloway, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum curator, said it’s typical for museums to renovate every 15-20 years to allow for newly processed materials, new technology and an opportunity to present different perspective with the passage of time.

“President Ford is doing well,” Holloway said. “His legacy is doing very well. He’s being seen in a new light.

“One of the things remembered most is his pardoning of Richard Nixon. One of the exhibits highlights the vitriol elicited by that pardon, at the moment it was given.

“If you look at it now, some 40 years removed from it, people understand that was something he had to do. He, in the heat of the moment, made the decision that was right over time, not that was right for the moment. It wasn’t done for vindication; it was done for the betterment of the nation.”

Holloway said Ford did several crucial things during his presidency that have a profound effect today.

“He is the first president to give the nation an energy policy,” Holloway said. “We had no energy policy before him. He saw the need for that.

“President Ford got the ball rolling on deregulation. Until President Ford, you had president after president who was following the lead of Franklin Roosevelt — increased regulation on the economy.”

The renovated museum also examines the life of First Lady Betty Ford in greater detail.

“When Congress decided to issue a Congressional Gold Medal to the Fords, they issued it to Gerald and Betty Ford, and that was the first time a first couple had been honored,” Holloway said. “It says something about who she is, the power of who Betty Ford is. She is immensely consequential, because she brings a voice to the first ladyship that had been rather silent.

“In many ways, she touched as many people through her legacy as Gerald R. Ford did during his 895 days as president.”

The DeVos Learning Center, a two-story, 8,000-square-foot addition to the museum, will also open this week. It has three state-of-the-art classrooms and will be used for school field trips, company meetings and workshops.

In honor of the reopening, the museum will host a June 6 pre-opening gala at the JW Marriott Hotel in downtown Grand Rapids. On June 7, a free, family-friendly community rededication and grand opening will begin at 10 a.m. on the museum grounds.

The museum will be open and free to the public through 8 p.m. that day.

Members of the Ford family will attend, including their children, Mike, Steve and Susan Ford Bales, as well as several members of the Ford cabinet.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney, a member of Ford’s cabinet, will provide the keynote for the pre-opening gala.

During the gala, three awards will be presented:

  • The Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on the Presidency, to Greg Jafe, reporter, The Washington Post.
  • The Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense, to Andrew deGrandpre, senior editor, Military Times.
  • Former cabinet member Carla Hills will honor former President George H.W. Bush with the President Gerald R. Ford Medal for Distinguished Public Service via a video presentation.

Speakers June 7 include:

  • David Ferriero, National Archives and Records Administration.
  • Dick Cheney, former vice president.
  • Doug DeVos, trustee, Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.
  • Juliette Turner, author and national director for Constituting America.

To purchase gala tickets, call (616) 254-0396 or email

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