The Beginnings of a Grand Life

"Artist Proof" of the Gerald R. Ford Mural created by Paul Collins


On the evening of Monday, November 1, 1976, Air Force One, dubbed The Spirit of ’76 in this the nation’s Bicentennial year, touched down at Kent County Airport.Following a hard day of campaigning in Ohio and Detroit, the President of the United States and the First Lady had returned home to cast their votes the next day in an election that would decide whether he would continue serving as President for the next four years. As recently as three years before, it was an election neither had contemplated.


The next day, President and Mrs. Ford joined over 39 million of their fellow citizens by casting their ballots for the man from Grand Rapids. Then they returned to the airport. But before leaving for Washington, they paused for a small ceremony to dedicate a mural to the city’s favorite son. Standing before the canvas that offered images of his youth, his family, and his career, President Ford’s eyes were drawn to the portraits of his mother and step father. “It really made me just get goose bumps all over,” he recalled. “I couldn’t help but look at their faces in the mural and wonder how they would have felt, the thrill they would have gotten out of it. Without a question, they would have been overwhelmed.”


Ford had returned to the town of his youth, looked upon the faces of the parents who raised him, and memories of growing up in Michigan rushed to meet him. Continue onward through the pages of this online exhibit to get a glimpse of the early years of Gerald R. Ford and early twentieth century Grand Rapids.