President Ford reminisces at Ford School event
Former U.S. President Gerald Ford struggled to make ends meet during his days at U-M.
At Rackham Auditorium Sept. 18, during a site dedication for the public policy school that bears his name, one of the University's most distinguished alumni recalled his time at U-M more than 70 years ago as a football player working on campus.
Ford came to the University with $200 in his pocket$100 for tuition and $100 to use for other expenses "for as long as I could." With no football scholarships then, his coach, Harry Kipke, found him a job waiting on tables for medical interns and cleaning the nurses cafeteria for three hours a day in the Old Main Hospital.
"With that compensation, I was able to buy my food and pay $4 a week for a joint rooming house room on the back end of the third floor, and we had to walk from the third [to another floor] to go to the bathroom. So those were not easy times," Ford told an audience of 350 people.
The Ford School of Public Policy honored him at two events celebrating the future expansion of the school. Former Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill served as the keynote speaker, and a panel discussion featured three former presidential advisers: David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; Ann Lewis, national chair of the Women's Vote Center; and Roger Porter, IBM professor of business and government at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
The 90-year-old Ford was accompanied on the visit by wife Betty and son Jack. He was upbeat as he recalled his collegiate days, speaking passionately about his U-M education, the new Ford School, and the former and current football teams.
Ford, who has visited the University several times since 2000, said he's grateful to the University for giving him an opportunity to get a good education. "Let me say with deep conviction how lucky I was to have the kind of first-class education," he said.
Ford said he will be excited when the schoolwhich has had his name since 1999raises enough money to begin construction on the new building. The proposed five-story, 80,000-square-foot building will be at the northeast corner of State and Hill streets. Rebecca Blank, the school's dean, said nearly $4 million in private donations has been raised, but the goal is to have commitments of $15 million before construction begins on the $32 million project. The University will fund the remainder.
Renderings for the new building, which were designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects, were approved by the Board of Regents in June. The Ford School trains students for careers in public service, emphasizing the value of social science techniques in understanding, developing, implementing and evaluating public policies.
President Mary Sue Coleman thanked Ford for his stand on social issues, including a recent New York Times opinion piece he wrote supporting the University's position on affirmative action in admissions. To make his point, Coleman said, he wrote about his days on the 1934 football team, which had only one Black player who was not allowed to participate in a game against a southern team.
In the New York Times, Ford wrote: "I wonder how different the world might have been in the 1940s, in the 50s, in the 60s, how much more humane and just, if my generation had experienced a more representative sampling of the American family."
Ward, who also participated on the track team, later became a highly successful judge, Ford added to Coleman's story.
The former president, who lives in southern California, also praised the current U-M football team's recent 38-0 victory against the University of Notre Dame.
"I thought it was very nice last Saturday. Out of curiosity, I watched every minute of it," he said, receiving laughter and applause from the audience. "They carried on the tradition in that great bowl [Michigan Stadium] on the campus."
Later in the day at Schembechler Hall, Ford offered encouragement to football coach Lloyd Carr and the players before they traveled to Oregon for their next game.
"You have an opportunity to become legends in Michigan football," said Ford, a 1978 inductee in the U-M Athletic Hall of Fame. "I'll be watching. I'll be listening. I'll be darn proud."
Ford, who grew up in Grand Rapids, received his undergraduate degrees in economics and political science in 1935. He went on to Yale University Law School, graduating in 1941.
His political career began in 1948 when he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He was nominated and confirmed as vice president in 1973. Ford became president a year later, following President Richard Nixon's resignation, and served until January 1977.
Gergen, a panelist in the afternoon event, said the White House is only as good and effective as its staff, and Ford surrounded himself with quality people.
"One of the distinguishing qualities that President Ford possessed was being comfortable with himself that he felt confident in getting the extremely best people who could be team players," said Gergen, who served as White House adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.
O'Neill said Ford always was humble as president, preferring to give credit to others.
"He didn't lead by intimidation," O'Neill said. "He led by the strength of his character and his openness to the best ideas."
Coleman told Ford: "You are a living example of the best that the University of Michigan can offer."