Local tells of golfing with president
EAGLE COUNTY – The stories have come over the phone, via e-mail and walking into the office with their keepers.The people live in Vail and Beaver Creek, Edwards and Eagle, but all responded to a call for their memories of President Gerald Ford and his time in the Vail Valley. Virtually everyone remembered the former president and his family fondly.Here then, are some shared memories of the Fords.
In the early ’80s, I had the opportunity to play golf with President Ford. I played in several Ford tournaments as a substitute for players, mainly celebrities, who for one reason or another, couldn’t make it. That year, I got the call the morning the tournament started. I was asked if I could make it to the Beaver Creek Golf course by 9 a.m. and was then asked if I could look like Glen Campbell. I might, but just don’t ask me to sing, I said. Then the “kicker” came – “Can you play with the president?”I was escorted to the first tee to meet my teammates. The president told me he had heard I was strong player for my handicap. I nervously replied that I had never said that.He replied with a big smile: “I hope so, because we just put a lot of money on you up on the driving range.” Oh great, the crowd was right there, the news cameras from Denver were right there, I could barely swallow. Then he said, “Why don’t you go first, Steve?”So I was the first person to tee off in that year’s Jerry Ford Invitational. I could barely hang on to the club. I didn’t lose the club when I swung, but I didn’t hit much of the ball either. Thank God the ball made it passed the ladies’ tee. President Ford was all smiles and very forgiving, he let me go first, again, on the second hole. How I made contact, I’ll never know. As the day went on a strange thing was happening. Spectators would step out of the crowd and say, “Steve, Steve, could we get a picture of you and the president?” I had no idea why they wanted me in the picture, nor did I know why they all seemed to know my name.Then the light went on. They must have thought I was Steve Ford and they were getting a father and son picture. The disappointing thing about it is, I never got a picture of the president and me from that day. I hold out hope that someone out there has a photo of me and the president from that day, even though they may think it is president Ford and his son, Steve. That day playing golf with Gerald Ford, was a day filled with a lifetime of great moments and memories. Thank you Mr. President, and God Bless.
In 1968 and 1969 Vail was a great deal smaller than it is today. One day on Bridge Street, gravel at that time, Larry Burdick, the owner of the Red Lion, George Knox, editor and publisher of the Vail Trail, and I were discussing our college/fraternity days. As it turned out, we were all fraternity brothers, belonging to Delta Kappa Epsilon, although at separate schools: Larry Burdick at Michigan, the Skipper at Wisconsin and I at Yale. This fraternity can now proudly say that it has produced five U.S. presidents, quite an accomplishment. As our Bridge Street conversation proceeded we decided to hold an annual Deke reunion, just the three of us at first with our wives. Then one of us mentioned that Gerald Ford, then House minority leader, had also been a Deke at Michigan. Naturally, we included Ford in our mix. We rounded out the group with several Denver/Vail locals who were either invested in Vail or who spent a great deal of time here. The first annual dinner consisted of nine couples, Gerald Ford among them, and it was every bit as much fun as the three of us had anticipated. Several years later, much to our surprise, as well as the surprise of the House minority leader, Gerald Ford had become president of the United States. Not one to look down his nose at his fraternity brothers, the Deke tradition continued, although now accompanied by what seemed to be a battalion of Secret Service, as well as some additional Dekes who naturally came out of the woodwork since word of the president’s attendance leaked out. While there are many stories that I recall from those Deke dinners, always held at the Red Lion, the most poignant was told by President Ford at our dinner in 1973. The president, himself, in his typically modest fashion, acknowledged that he had no idea how he would perform in the starring role which fate had provided him, but that he could assure all of us of his honesty. To back that up he informed us that, due to the Watergate scandal and the general unease of the American public, the FBI had spent 300 man years investigating his background and found it without a notable flaw. Each of us looked at the other and muttered something to the effect of “better him than me.” The concept of having my past gone over with an FBI fine tooth comb to the tune of 300 man years was a specter that I didn’t even want to consider. The president proved true to his word and none of us ever expected anything less.
At 11:30 p.m. I attempted to go to see the president and pay my last respects in Washington D.C.. The line was nearly an hour-and-a-half long, and I was poorly dressed for the chilly night, so I left. I decided to get up at 5:30 a.m., brave the elements and pay my last respects to former President Ford. I am very happy I did. The people on the bus ride over were very interesting, almost as important to me as the event itself, since what we spoke about was freedom, and how blessed we are to live in a country of such abundance and benefits. A Filipino woman sat next to me and explained how in places in her home country they still have no running water, and a person with a sixth grade education is considered intelligent beyond measure. She said here in America, she has had the opportunity to become a citizen, and learn the language, and get a better education. We spoke of the gift of freedom of religion, and about how there was enough hatred in the world for Americans, and that it was frustrating that within our own country we had so many who would love to see America self-destruct and are working toward that end. President Ford’s legacy of peace and forgiveness is still alive, if we will but remember to carry it forward to the future.