Photos Courtesy Of The Gerald R. Ford Museum
A recent renovation at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids showcases much new in the way of technology and interactivity designed to immerse visitors in the story of the 38th president, and to illustrate the values—integrity, honesty and candor—that remain hallmarks of Ford and his wife Betty’s long years of public service.
RENOVATIONS AT THE GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum’s exterior appears familiar to return visitors, as the new 8,000-squarefoot DeVos Learning Center seamlessly blends into the south end of the 35-yearold building on the bank of the Grand River. But there is, much like the presidency of Ford, more behind the facade.
The $13 million museum addition and renovation employed design elements to enhance energy efficiency and air quality with measures like on-site storm control systems, LED lighting, auto-control systems, reflective roofing to reduce moisture retention, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and landscaping with native plants and bioswales to help restore native habitats, control water run-off and facilitate infiltration.
After a near-total gutting of the interior and makeover of the main museum display area exhibits have moved into the next century, creating an interactive learning experience for visitors, allowing access to more museum artifacts and adding state-of-the-art computer and video tools. The addition provides more space to host school field trips, seminars, workshops and other events.
WALK THROUGH HISTORY
A 20-minute film introduces Ford’s unusual path to the White House. Throughout the galleries, super-sized photos, documents, a wealth of personal effects and objects from his careers, short films and touch-screen displays trace Ford’s life from his childhood in Grand Rapids through his college football days, his studies at the University of Michigan and Yale Law School and service in the Navy during World War II.
Shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Bloomer Warren in 1948 he was elected to Congress, where he represented Michigan in the House until tapped to become Richard Nixon’s Vice President when Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973. Less than a year later, upon Nixon’s resignation, Ford was sworn in as president.
His short administration during turbulent times is remembered for his controversial pardon of Nixon, handling of foreign relations with Vietnam, China and the Soviet Union, budget deficits and two attempts on his life, as well as the nation’s bicentennial and his failed presidential bid in 1976. Visitors can step into replicas of the Oval Office and Cabinet Room and examine ceremonial gifts presented by other Heads of State. Displays describe Betty Ford’s roles as a wife and mother of four, her outspoken positions on social issues as First Lady and the challenges she faced as a public figure candidly dealing with private health issues.
EXHIBITS AT THE MUSEUM
In addition to its permanent collection, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum hosts temporary exhibits and events. An important part of the museum’s reinvention is to increase its global reach through online access, with plans to continue digitizing the museum’s documents and artifacts housed in Grand Rapids and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor.
Ford, who died in 2006 and Betty, who died in 2011, are buried on the museum grounds. The burial site is open to the public.
IF YOU GO
GERALD R. FORD PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM: fordlibrarymuseum.gov, (616) 254-0400
GRAND RAPIDS VISITOR INFORMATION: experiencegr.com, (800) 678-9859
This article originally appeared in the 2016 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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