Betty Ford treated everyone in Vail the same |

Betty Ford treated everyone in Vail the same

Special to the DailyBetty Ford, who visited and owned a home in the Vail Valley for many years, turns 90 today. Ford lent her name to Vail Alpine Gardens, which became the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

VAIL ” June Vanourek remembered how Betty Ford would personally greet new neighbors in her Beaver Creek neighborhood, inviting them over for coffee.

Beth Slifer recalled how, if you had a friend who was struggling with alcohol abuse, the first lady would gladly call that friend and share her own experiences with recovery.

Elaine Kelton remembered the day Mrs. Ford hand-delivered a signed photograph for Kelton’s young daughter as a thank you for the girl, who had helped Ford film a commercial for the Arthritis Foundation.

Even as former first lady Betty Ford has advanced big causes ” both in Eagle County and nationwide ” locals talk about her kind nature, her keen sense of humor and her down-to-earth graciousness.

“She treated everyone the same,” said local resident Allie Coppeak, who has known Ford for many years.

Ford, a longtime friend of Eagle County who owned a home here for many years, turns 90 Tuesday.

“She and Jerry had a partnership where the sum was greater than the parts,” Kelton said. “The two of them were wonderful together.”

Her husband, President Gerald Ford, died in 2006.

Ford’s love of dance ” she studied under Martha Graham ” helped Vail’s dance festival get off the ground. She befriended Sofia Golovkina, who brought the Bolshoi Academy to Vail for several years in the early ’90s.

“We continue to reap the benefits of Betty’s vision every summer when the dance festival comes to town,” said John Dakin, vice president of communications for the Vail Valley Foundation.

Twenty years ago, Ford also gave her name to Vail’s alpine gardens, now known as the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. The gardens see about 100,000 visitors a year each summer. Ford became a steadfast supporter of the gardens.

“(The Fords) had many fundraisers in their homes and in other people’s homes and sponsored fundraisers for the gardens,” said Vanourek, a board member for the gardens.

As recently as last year, Ford has helped local nonprofits. She recently agreed to be an honorary chairwoman for the OK Corral, a kids’ camp in Sweetwater.

Ford’s nationwide efforts also didn’t go unnoticed here, either. Friends noted Ford’s open battles with both breast cancer and alcoholism, in a time when people were much less open with those struggles.

“She helped thousands of people overcome their addictions,” Vanourek said.

People didn’t openly talk about breast cancer when Ford went public with her own cancer, Slifer said.

“Because of her, instances of early detection rose dramatically,” Slifer said.

Several local friends said they’ll give Ford a phone call as she marks her 90th birthday in California.

“I would say, ‘Happy birthday, I miss you, and I love you very much,'” Coppeak said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or

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