BEAVER CREEK — Gerald R. Ford, whose love of skiing beamed Vail into the world’s living rooms, is 100 years old Sunday.
The valley will stop for a few moments Sunday to celebrate Ford and the Beaver Creek Chapel he and Betty worked so hard to make a reality. The Beaver Creek Chapel is 25 years old.
It can now be told
Jerry and Betty Ford started coming to Vail in the 1960s when he was a Michigan congressman. Lawmakers didn’t make all that much money in those days, and they wanted their own place in Vail.
So, Jerry and Betty, parents to a houseful of delightful children, raised the money for the down payment on a Vail condo by borrowing against the cash value of their children’s life insurance policies.
They bought an end unit in The Lodge at Vail facing Vail Mountain. They stayed there until Jerry ascended to the presidency and the Secret Service said, “Not a chance are you living there,” or words to that effect.
Vail Associates owner Dick Bass offered Ford the use of his Mill Creek home when Ford was in town. The Secret Service agreed, saying it was much more secure.
Western White House
If you need to promote your fledgling ski area, there’s no better way than for the White House press corps to do it for you.
That’s what Vail did.
When Ford ascended to be the 38th president, he was credited by longtime locals with first bringing Vail to international prominence. During his presidency, he was such a regular on the slopes that the White House press corps began calling Vail “The Western White House.”
That moniker was beamed into living rooms all over the country, along with shots of Ford and Chief of Staff Dick Cheney skiing. The snow was great, the skies were blue and everyone was having a great time.
In the background, Walter Cronkite, “The Most Trusted Man in America,” told the country, “That’s the way it is.”
“Prior to that, when I went to New York to do the buying for Pepi’s Sports, I had to explain that Vail was a new resort between Denver and Aspen,” Sheika Gramshammer said. “After he became president, people would say, ‘Oh! You live where the president does!’”
Ford brought a constant stream of international political and government officials to town. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was around. It wasn’t unusual to find a quorum of Ford’s Cabinet around a table in a local restaurant.
“If you really stand back and look at Vail and it’s maturing, he was the one individual who had more impact than anyone else,” said Vail businessman Rod Slifer. “While he was president he brought focus here.”
The Fords connected to Vail through Jerry’s boyhood friend Ted Kindel, a former owner of The Christiania Lodge and Vail’s first mayor, who was from Grand Rapids, Mich., the town in which Ford was born and raised.
Kindel was Vail’s first mayor and his dad was Ford’s Boy Scout leader when Ford earned his Eagle Scout rank.
After a long and distinguished career as a Michigan congressman, Ford was appointed vice president by Richard Nixon. He ascended to the presidency after Nixon resigned at the height of the Watergate scandal. Ford quickly pardoned Nixon, saying Nixon and the nation had suffered enough, a move that many say cost him a close election against Jimmy Carter.
After bolting from the Beltway, the Fords split their time between Vail and southern California.
“After he settled here he became a great ambassador for the Vail Valley,” Slifer said. “He is still very giving with his time.”
Ford also set about the business of being an international statesman.
Among his other endeavors, he launched the annual World Forum, a gathering of international leaders from government and industry.
And he enjoyed the regular round of golf.
He hit his drives 250 yards, as straight as his character and as true as his word.
“I am honored to pay tribute to the country’s most humble leader during his centennial celebration,” Cheney said. “President Ford was a man of great character who led our country through its roughest days. Through his leadership, I learned the importance of honesty and integrity, and admire all he was able to do through his public and private life.”
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are bound together by the most powerful of all ties, our fervent love for freedom and independence, which knows no homeland but the human heart.”
Gerald R. Ford in an address before the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, August 1, 1975