On Election Day, I wanted to share the time I was honored to visit with Nebraska’s native born President. Over a decade ago, when I was farming full-time and freelance writing for several regional magazines, I had the unique opportunity to interview Gerald Ford.
Gerald Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr. in a home along Woolworth Avenue in Omaha on a hot July day in 1913. His spoiled and violent father, Leslie King, Sr., married his mother, Dorothy, in 1912. After their honeymoon, it became quickly apparent that the man Dorothy had married was quite different than the man she had dated. He was quick tempered, angry and violent.
After their young son was born, King, Sr. pulled a knife on Dorothy and the baby. She feared for their lives.
With the help of Dorothy’s parents, who lived in Michigan, she and her baby son were able to escape from Omaha, moving to her parent’s home. Eventually, Dorothy divorced King, Sr. and married Gerald Ford, Sr. Dorothy’s young son took the name of his adoptive father and they made their home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The young Gerald Ford grew up there, became a star football player for Michigan and eventually ran for Congress. Then, in the midst of Nixon’s Watergate scandal and the resignation of Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, Ford was called upon to be Nixon’s new Vice-President.
He was a likeable Congressman, whose sole ambition in life was to be majority leader. He never had the White House in mind, but he was appreciated and liked by Republicans and Democrats as a straight shooter.
Then, when Nixon resigned in 1974, Ford became the President without being voted into office. After taking the oath of office, he broadcast a message to the American people. “Our long, national nightmare is over,” Ford said in his raspy, but calm voice. “Our Constitution works.” This message and his demeanor brought a sense of calm across the nation in the wake of Watergate, which had threatened to tear our country apart.
Knowing all of this about Ford, I truly wanted to talk with him myself. It took more than a little persistence on my part to get the interview. I wrote Ford’s office in California several times, requesting a brief phone interview for my article on the Ford birthsite in Omaha. After receiving no answer, I finally wrote another letter, outlining the questions I would ask the former President if the interview were granted.
One day, while my family was having dinner, I received a call from Ford’s secretary, saying the former President had agreed to the phone interview, and that I should call back the next day at a specific time. I was granted ten minutes on the phone.
I can tell you that I was a little nervous. I had been free lance writing for years, but this was a whole new ballgame. I formally wrote out my questions, so I wouldn’t forget anything. Then, at the assigned time the following day, I called Ford’s office.
His secretary answered. She began asking about Nebraska, because she told me that her nephew was attending college in the state. Our conversation became so pleasant, that I almost forgot my business. Suddenly, she stopped the conversation and simply said, “OK, here he is.”
On the other end of the phone, I heard the former President say in that familiar raspy voice, “Hello Curt.”
I stuttered. “Hello Mr. President,” I said. It was a moment I will not forget. We chatted about the development of his birthsite in Omaha and the times he and his wife, Betty had visited. We talked about his Presidency as well. I asked him what he thought about farm policy and what his stance was on farm issues while he was President.
Ford replied that he always thought it best to give farmers the freedom to farm as they wished. He said they were good businessmen and women and knew best how to take care of their farms and produce food for the nation and the world. He also mentioned the importance of tearing down any trade barriers to selling our farm products to other nations.
Our ten minute visit turned into a twenty minute interview. Finally, Ford said that he’d have to wrap it up because he had a doctor’s appointment. I thanked him most graciously for his time. After the article was published, I sent a copy to him and he replied to me with a nice letter that I now have framed in my office.
When Ford passed away in 2006, I followed with interest the enormous amount of press given to his most important accomplishment as President. In interviewing his many admirers and the people in Nebraska who worked with him over the years, this accomplishment was always first in their minds. He provided calm and stability to the nation in a tumultuous time in the aftermath of Watergate. He was the right man for the job at just the right time.
On this Election Day in 2012, it is a good time to remember good guys like Nebraska’s own Gerald Ford.
Be sure to watch www.nebraskafarmer.com and read our November print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at www.DatelineDrought.com.