The Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR), on the eastern-side of Metro Grand Rapids, opened the President Gerald R. Ford Tribute Room on October 17, 2017. The Tribute Room includes permanent exhibits on Gerald R. Ford’s life and is located in the pre-security area allowing for public access. President Gerald R. Ford Foundation Trustee Peter Secchia worked hand-in-hand with GRR on the completion of the new exhibit.
The ceremony opened with a video clip from the National Geographic film Gerald R. Ford: A Test of Character that helped frame the challenges that President Ford inherited at the time he took the Oath of Office. The film followed with a public thanks to Peter Secchia for his generosity and vision for the film along with the support from the Peter F. Secchia Family Foundation, Doug and Maria DeVos Foundation, and the Meijer Foundation.
GRR Airport Authority Board Chair Roger Morgan opened the ceremony sharing background on how in the late 1990s, GRR (previously named Kent County International Airport) rushed to beat Palm Springs Airport to name the airport after President Ford. Morgan also discussed the movement by the County Board and GRR Board to restructure the airport governing body as an airport authority which allowed more access to community fundraising in support of the Tribute Room. Morgan also attributed the success of the Tribute Room stemmed from recruiting Peter Secchia to form and underwrite the Tribute Room Committee along with Chair Fred Keller.
President Gerald R. Ford Tribute Room Committee Chair Fred Keller discussed how Peter Secchia’s drive led to the successful completion of the Tribute Room. Keller said the Tribute Room’s focus would display the values President Ford lived by, President Ford’s life in Western Michigan, a changing display from President Ford’s life that would speak to a current theme, and an “attractor” which currently shows the new class of aircraft carrier the USS Gerald R. Ford. Keller also thanked Foundation Chairman Red Cavaney, friend of President Ford and Foundation Chairman Emeritus Marty Allen, President Ford’s son and Foundation Trustee Steve Ford, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, and the Tribute Room Committee staff for their hard work on the Tribute Room. Keller closed by confirming that the Committee raised enough funds to support the Tribute Room in perpetuity.
Foundation Trustee Steve Ford shared his appreciation for the work done to complete the Tribute Room. Steve Ford recalled a story about how his father was preparing for retirement as a Congressman prior to President Richard Nixon appointing him Vice President. Steve shared how his father tried to convince his mother about taking the appointment, as at that time Betty Ford was excited about the prospect of her husband’s retirement from public service. He remembered his father telling her, “Don’t worry, Vice Presidents don’t do anything.”
Reflecting on the video, Steve recalled how his father walked into the White House not under typical ceremonial gallantry but rather into a constitutional crisis and inherited very difficult circumstances including the Vietnam War, the Cold War, oil price shocks, and inflation. He added that his father could not have been successful without the people of West Michigan investing in him growing up, “this community invested in dad’s life and helped him.” He delivered heartfelt thanks to the West Michigan community on behalf of the Ford family for investing in his father’s life which allowed him to play a role in history.
GRR President & CEO Jim Gill noted that eight airports in the United States are named after Presidents for various reasons but for the case in West Michigan it was an honor to name it after West Michigan’s “native son” President Ford. Although the GRR Airport has a lot to offer, Gill stated it would not be complete without the Tribute Room and thanked the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation Board of Directors, the Peter Secchia Family Foundation, Tribute Room Committee Chair Fred Keller, Foundation Executive Director Joe Calvaruso, Airport Board and staff, and the many donors which made it all possible.
The event closed with Jim Gill, Roger Morgan, Joan Secchia, Steve Ford, and Fred Keller participating in the ceremonial ribbon cutting opening the Tribute Room.