‘Vail’s first lady’ honored | VailDaily.com

‘Vail’s first lady’ honored

Preston Utley/Vail DailyBetty Ford smiles as she watches a movie dedicated to her life Sunday at 'A Vail Vally Tribute to Betty Ford' in Vail at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.

VAIL – To get this many jackets and ties in one room in Vail takes a pretty special event. Or a special person.A few hundred local residents put on their Sunday best Sunday evening to honor former first lady Betty Ford for her contributions to Vail and the valley. The site, appropriately enough, was the alpine garden that bears her name. But getting Ford to show up for a party in her honor isn’t particularly easy. According to one of the party’s organizers, Ford is generally happy to lend her name to good causes but reluctant to have people sing her praises.”When I told her we needed to get a few more endowments for the gardens, she said ‘I’ll come,'” said June Vanourek, who helped organize the event.The idea to celebrate Ford’s contributions to the valley and the country came last fall. Once Ford gave her approval for the party, Vanourek and others on the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens board started researching her life and times.”In the ’70s, I was raising kids of my own and I didn’t really have time to learn about Betty Ford,” Vanourek. “To find out what she did, she’s remarkable.”Ford was one of the first public figures to speak openly about breast cancer and substance abuse. She also lent her support to funding for the arts in schools and worked to help children with learning disabilities.And, along with her husband, she helped make Vail a household word.”They made Vail, in my opinion,” Helmut Fricker said. While he’s known around the valley as an entertainer, Fricker is a master bookbinder. With Vanourek and her husband, Bob, picking up the tab, Fricker put together a one-of-a-kind album of photos and letters. The letters run the gamut, from locals to national figures including current first lady Laura Bush and former first ladies Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan and Rosalynn Carter. The letter from Barbara Bush is typed, of course, but with an additional personal note hand-written in blue felt-tip marker.

In addition to the hand-made book, Ford received a copy of “Betty Ford: Vail Valley’s First Lady,” presented by authors Elizabeth Eber and Jane Imber, as well as a watercolor portrait of the Betty Ford day lilly by local artist Cynthia Turner.She also received the public gratitude and good wishes from a handful of locals.Mayor Rod Slifer told the crowd that the Vail Town Council had recently passed a resolution honoring Ford and had also named the street that runs past the gardens and the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater “Betty Ford Way.””Mr. President, you’ve got some catching up to do,” Slifer said.At least that was the case Sunday evening.”President Ford gets lots of accolades,” Vanourek said. “We wanted a tribute to Betty. And frankly, we didn’t want to wait. We wanted the two of them to be able to sit there and enjoy this.”Local tiesWhen the Fords started coming to Vail in 1969 – while Gerald was still a congressman from Michigan – they stayed at Gasthof Gramshammer, the Vail Village lodge owned by Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer.Over the years the Fords and Gramshammers became friends, something Sheika Gramshammer said she values very much.

“Betty is Vail,” Gramshammer said. “She’s a friend to so many people.”Steve Jones, owner of Steve Jones Stables at Beaver Creek, counts himself among those friends.”I took his kids for horseback rides,” Jones said. “I took a pony up to their place one time for one of their grandkids. I started talking to (Gerald Ford) and we’ve been friends since.”Like Fricker, Jones credits the Fords with making his business, and Vail, what it is today.”It made me credible when people saw them riding in my carriages,” Jones said. “I think it’s wonderful what they’re doing for Betty now.”And while the amphitheater bears Gerald Ford’s name, it was Betty Ford who lent her name to the valley’s fledgling dance festival, other cultural events, and, of course, the gardens.”What a beautiful thing they’ve done here,” said Greg Allen of Cordillera. “A lot of people have libraries named for them. But look at this garden.”And Betty Ford’s friendship continues to bloom in her adopted home.”If friendship was a flower, she would be the most perfect rose,” said Sheika Gramshammer.

Thank you, thank youWhile Ford isn’t one to seek the limelight, she embraced Sunday’s party.”I feel like I just floated up here,” she said when all the presentations were finished. “This week has been a real eye-opener.”Talking about Eber and Imber’s book, Ford said, “I learned a lot of things. I don’t know whether I’d forgotten or they just made them up.”Turning serious, Ford offered her thanks.”I’m so grateful to each and every one of you,” she said. “And I accept this with humility.”Staff Writer Scott N. Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 613, or smiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail Colorado

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