2017 America's First Ladies

Coinciding with Mrs. Betty Ford’s birthday, America’s First Ladies: An Enduring Legacy highlights the lasting impact and enduring legacy of one of America’s most beloved First Ladies. The April 11, 2017 luncheon was held at the Frederik Meijer Gardens Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This year’s special guest was Mary Jean Eisenhower, granddaughter of the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The event celebrated Betty Ford’s legacy on what would have been her 99th birthday including recognizing her efforts with breast cancer awareness and research, and the importance of battling addiction. Liesel Meijer welcomed the audience before the panel discussion between President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s granddaughter Mary Jean Eisenhower and President Gerald R. Ford’s daughter Susan Ford Bales.

Both shared anecdotal stories of growing up in the White House. Eisenhower shared how she received a fake ticket from a guard for driving an electric car in the White House and watching President Eisenhower light the National Christmas tree. Ford Bales providing details around her senior prom in the White House and how her class raised money to pay for the entire event.

Both spoke fondly of Camp David, noting the privacy provided time for the families to relax and be themselves. When asked about a favorite memory of her grandfather, Eisenhower pointed to the times her grandfather taught her how to ride a horse noting that at the time, she saw him as a gentle man and not as an important historical figure.

Eisenhower credited First Lady Betty Ford for using her status to increase breast cancer awareness and research in the United States. Eisenhower recognized Betty Ford’s courageousness and positive attitude that she herself said helped her in her own battle with breast cancer.

Eisenhower also recalled her grandmother, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, as a gentle, quick-witted woman that she considered a mentor. As an example, she described how her grandmother’s nightgown had five military stars embroidered on the shoulder like a military general along with “I Like Ike” stitching.

Eisenhower also discussed her grandfather’s enduring legacy through ‘People to People International’. President Eisenhower founded the organization to promote the free flow of ideas between cultures. The organization attempts to create common threads, and prevent a future world war, between cultures such as from displaying through painted mural exchanges between kids to supporting student exchange programs to promote understanding.

Dr. Judy L. Smith, Chief of Spectrum Health Regional Cancer Center, reflected on Mrs. Ford’s legacy on cancer care and credited her with changing the national conversation on breast cancer awareness and research through her courageous announcement.

Author and moderator Lisa McCubbin who is currently working on a Betty Ford biography closed the event inviting the audience to submit any stories of the First Lady to the Ford Foundation for inclusion in the book scheduled for release in 2018.

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