GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Former President Gerald R. Ford is not just considered good, but great in Grand Rapids. The 38th president is a favorite son for Michiganders.
"That's right, we're the only split facility where our library is removed geographically from us," says Donald Holloway, Curator of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. "We don't exist on the same campus."
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum overlooks the Grand River, the second largest city in Michigan and Gerald Ford's hometown. Built in 1981, the museum was the first urban redevelopment on the west side of Grand Rapids. This was where his father, Gerald Rudolf Ford, ran a paint store.
Ford's 895 days in office are just a few months shorter than JFK's tenure. And the way he got there was not by a vote at the ballot box.
"Built to a one-to-one scale," says Holloway. "So this is the exact size. We're the first presidential library to have an exact size model of the Oval Office."
Much of the furniture in this replica Oval Office was built in Grand Rapids, once considered the furniture-making capital of America. Here you'll find Ford's fondness for space.
"Ford was on the committee that drafted the legislation that gave birth to NASA in the Eisenhower administration," says Holloway. "Ford served for 25 years in Congress and then became president at a time when Apollo was shutting down and NASA transitioning to the space shuttle program. So he had the opportunity to name the first space shuttle."
"He was flooded with requests from Star Trek fans that the first space shuttle, of course, had to be named the Enterprise," says Holloway. "Ford acquiesced to that and named it the Enterprise."
Also in the museum? Ford's Eagle Scout medal. The motto "Be Prepared" was how Ford lived his life later as a member of the U.S. Navy.
But there's another uniform he almost wore after playing football at the University of Michigan. "Jerry," as he was called, turned down an offer from the Green Bay Packers to play professional football.
"We have about 20,000 artifacts in our collection," says Holloway. "Probably about 7,000 to 8,000 of which are from his time as president."
The Ford Presidential Library also contains a White House Cabinet Room replica, which had a who's who list in those seats.
"It's full size," says Holloway. "The president gets to, this is one of the rooms the president gets to decorate. He gets to choose what paintings hang on the wall. His favorite president was Dwight Eisenhower. His favorite Democrat president was Harry Truman. Course you have to have the leader of the Republican Party, the Healey painting of Abraham Lincoln."
Gerald Ford served as a congressman for 25 years before becoming vice president and later president when Richard Nixon resigned.
Ford also survived a pair of assassination attempts.
"Both by women. Both in the State of California, each weeks from one another, in September of 1975," says Holloway.
Look close at the bulletproof jacket and you can read the "hand wash only" instructions.
"He wears this raincoat of February of 1976 when he goes up to New Hampshire to campaign in the primaries," says Holloway.
Construction on this 44,000 square-foot facility began in January 1976.
"It also gives you a feel for the 1970s," says Holloway. "This is a great place for what historians call 'material culture.' They built a culture that displays artifacts to ourselves. Well the 1970s, for better or worse, is here at the Ford Museum."
Ford's presidency was from August 9, 1974, until January 20, 1977. He lost the reelection campaign to Jimmy Carter. Many believe Ford lost the election because of his pardon of Richard Nixon.
"He came to the office through extraordinary circumstances, but through constitutional means," says Holloway. "So he has the responsibility as he sees it to begin healing the wounds of the nation, both from Watergate, but also the turmoil of the 1960s and turmoil that was the Vietnam War."
Ford would pass away December 26, 2006, at the age of 93. The former president and his wife, Betty, are buried at the museum.
"He was a hard worker who valued honesty," says Holloway. "He was not going to lie to you. He expected you not to lie to him, and heaven help you if you did. He was a person people felt comfortable investing trust in and that served him well throughout his life."