Gerald R. Ford's Remarks at the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

October 10, 2001

Thanks very much, John, for that far too generous introduction.

This evening is all about renewal - how a community can be reborn through the leadership and imagination of those who love it most. Such renewal can take many forms. Soaring towers, vibrant cultural institutions, revitalized neighborhoods – each offers testimony to just how far we have come. But, the phenomenon we celebrate this evening is hardly limited to Grand Rapids . Under Governor John Engler’s superb leadership, Michigan has been a laboratory of innovation. John Engler established a new standard in service to the people of Michigan .

It hardly seems possible that twenty years have passed since we all gathered to celebrate the opening of the old – or should I say the new – Pantlind. No doubt each of us cherishes a special memory from that occasion. I loved the Pantlind coffee shop where on many mornings I consumed too many breakfast calories. Over the years, the Pantlind Ballroom had countless Republican political dinners for Barry Goldwater, Senator Everett Dirksen and others.

You may not know this, but the Pantlind and I literally grew up together. We were both born in 1913, a fact duly noted in the dinner that evening, along with the extraordinary Van Andel/DeVos renovation that had brought the hotel back to vibrant life. At which point, my irrepressible wife turned to me and whispered "Maybe you need a little renovation too."

Service is a trait synonymous with this hotel. As renovated it is a typical Amway project. Superb facilities – first class service. Joe Tomaselli and his team are terrific. Thanks to them, coming home to Grand Rapids is always a pleasure. Joe, I love the butter pecan ice cream you always have available in my freezer in my suite.

I’ve had my own definition of the aging process, and it has little to do with the passage of time. I don’t think you measure age with a clock or a calendar. I don’t think you grow old at all, not as long as you retain your curiosity about life, your openness to new ideas, your interest in people who might be strangers one day and fast friends the next.

What is true of individuals holds equally true for cities. To me, Grand Rapids is among the youngest of American cities – a place whose enduring values and bedrock faith coexist with the pioneering scientific explorations of a Van Andel Institute, the architectural boldness of a DeVos Center , the public popular Arena, the constant striving for excellence of an Amway Grand Plaza – and the cultural outreach of a Ford Museum .

This is also the twentieth anniversary of that institution which bears my name but which is, in no way, a personal monument. Two decades ago, I expressed the wish that it might be a dynamic, constantly changing institution that would enrich the life of this community and bring further distinction to this great state. We are achieving that goal. Rich and Jay became Charter Members of the Board of Trustees and continue to serve as Honorary Members.

The last five years have witnessed the fullest realization of my hopes. I congratulate and thank Richard Norton Smith. His leadership and vision have been extraordinary. Please visit the Museum during the next four months, when Grand Rapids plays host to one of the most comprehensive exhibits ever mounted on my favorite President, Abraham Lincoln.

Soon we will break ground on a 10,000 square foot addition to the Museum, featuring new educational facilities and a replica of the President’s Cabinet office. I compliment Marty Allen for his leadership on behalf of the Ford Foundation.

More than once over the years, I’ve noticed that both the Ford Museum , and the great glass tower which joined the old Pantlind a few years ago, reflect in their mirrored exteriors the city of Grand Rapids . From time to time, it’s useful for all of us to pause and reflect on the community from which we derive so much of our identity and even more of our inspiration. That’s never been truer than now.

Through the private investment of Rich and Jay, creating the hotel led to new community ventures including the Public Museum, the Arena, the Art Museum, the Spectrum Health Center, the Van Andel Institute and DeVos Hall.

I know Rich and Jay would join me in acknowledging that the renaming of the ancient Interurban Bridge , the Gillett Bridge , was appropriate. That bridge links this fabulous hotel and the Ford Museum . This revitalization created a new meeting place on the Grand for ethnic festivals, annual celebrations on the Grand, 4 th of July fireworks and most recently the Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Resolve relative to the September 11 tragedy.

Four weeks ago, we experienced the globalization of terror. Overnight we were transformed. Petty rivalries were forgotten. Politics as usual were put aside. Geographical and cultural distances vanished. In an instant we all became New Yorkers, or Washingtonians, or Pennsylvanians. In the climate of national resolution, which has followed the unspeakable acts of September 11, patriotism has swallowed up partisanship. Take it from one who remembers December 7, 1941 – America had never been more united than she is now. As President Bush has told us, this is a different kind of war. There won’t be front lines in the conventional sense. Our greatest weapons may be unconventional. They may be military financial and diplomatic. The battles may be waged in cyberspace as well in the desolate mountains of Afghanistan .

But whatever may have changed, some things are permanent. The weeks and months ahead will test us all. They will demand all of the courage, all of the character, all of the strength that we can summon. We will have need of leaders who give voice to our feelings and reassurance to our fears. In times of trial, America has always been blessed with such leaders. In Western Michigan we have Jay and Rich. In the White House we have George W. Bush – I ask you to join me in a silent prayer to President Bush, and all our men and women in uniform on whom freedom itself depends.


May God bless them all, and may God bless America .


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