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Ford’s presence helped resorts’ business

Scott N. Miller
Vail, CO Colorado
Courtesy Vail ResortsBreaking ground at Beaver Creek Resort, 1977. Right to left: Dick Bass, Gerald Ford, Jack Marshall and an unidentified man.
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EAGLE COUNTY ” It’s hard to believe now, but Beaver Creek was once seen as a big risk. Until Gerald Ford built a home there.

Locals say Ford and his wife, Betty, had played a big role in keeping Vail growing in the 1970s, then helping get Beaver Creek off the ground in the 1980s.

When Ford was vice president and president, he attracted people to Vail Village, said George Knox, owner of the Moose’s Caboose on Bridge Street.

“People would congregate around Pepi’s to see them, then they’d filter into the stores,” Knox said. “They did a tremendous amount of good for bringing business to Vail, Colorado.”

In the 1970s, Vail’s summers were much quieter than they are now. Pepi Langegger, who owned the Tyrolean restaurant in Vail for more than 30 years, remembers the summer crowds were bigger around the time of the annual Jerry Ford Invitational golf tournament.

“It was positive (publicity) for Vail,” Langegger said. “Any time a president comes to a town, it’s national news.”

Local musician Helmut Fricker played at a cocktail party at the first of the golf tournaments. Guests included some of the entertainment world’s heavyweights, including Bob Hope and Dinah Shore.

“I met all those people,” Fricker said. “Some of them bought homes here.”

Fricker landed quite a bit of work from the tournament gigs, too.

“There were many, many paying jobs,” he said. “I played many times at the Fords’ house.”

“Without a doubt he was the most influential person as someone who came to Vail,” said Dick Hauserman, an early investor in the resort. “We’ve had several presidents and vice presidents visit, but none had the impact President Ford had.”

Part of Ford’s effect on business came from being followed everywhere by the national press, Hauserman said. But part, too, was the way he got involved in the community.

“He fit in well,” Hauserman said. “He really enhanced the community.”

Ford started coming to Vail in 1968, when he was a Congressman from Michigan. He already owned a place by the time he was appointed vice president in late 1973.

“It brought national coverage when he came here for Christmas as vice president,” longtime resident Oscar Tang said. “Then it became a major news story when he was president.”

Longtime Vail residents and business owners say, almost to a person, that Ford’s presence “put Vail on the map.” He did the same for Beaver Creek.

In the late 1970s ” after Ford had left the White House ” plans were finalized for the new resort just west of Vail. There were doubts whether the new resort would succeed.

“He’s had a lasting impact on Beaver Creek,” said John Galvin, whose own home at Beaver Creek was finished just a couple of months after the Fords.

“In 1979 when the Fords and we bought lots at Beaver Creek there was a lot of skepticism,” said Phil Smiley, a former next-door neighbor to the Fords. “His presence gave confidence to a lot of people.”

In addition, Ford’s influence helped created the American Enterprise Institute World Forum, a closed-to-the-public weekend in which international political and business leaders get together to talk about the planet’s problems.

In its first several years, the World Forum brought in Ford’s political peers from around the world. That, in turn, brought influential businessmen.

“That brought a recognition of Beaver Creek to those world leaders,” Galvin said. “The World Forum brought a lasting impression of Beaver Creek.”

Several people who have attended the World Forum have reportedly bought homes in Beaver Creek. Others have returned for vacations. But Galvin said, Ford’s influence at Beaver Creek runs deeper.

“President Ford was probably the most influential person in creating the chapel at Beaver Creek,” Galvin said. “That’s a lasting memorial to his presence, and his contribution to the Beaver Creek community.”

Now retired, Pastor Don Simonton was a member of the committee that was raising money for the chapel.

The money was coming in slowly, Simonton said, but Ford insisted that work start on the building. Work started, and checks started coming in.

Not many people know that Ford was part of a small group that signed a contract to pay for construction in case money couldn’t be raised, Galvin said. Galvin was part of that small group, too.

“That chapel is only a structure,” Galvin said. “But it’s a building block in creating a community, rather than just a structure in a resort.”

Just about 20 years ago, local developer Bob Warner had a meeting with Ford about building some new homes near his house on Elk Track Road.

“We just wanted his blessing on it,” Warner said. “It’s been a real positive having him in the resort. I’m sure we grew faster and quicker because of him.”

Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 748-2930, or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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