Airport unveils former president Ford statue

A curved sandstone-inspired seating element complements the statue, creating a place for visitors to sit with Ford while overlooking a global map etched into the concrete. Courtesy Gerald R. Ford International Airport

A statue of former president Gerald R. Ford was unveiled at Gerald R. Ford International Airport on Thursday.

The bronze statue is a gift from the family of Ambassador Peter and Joan Secchia. The sculpture of the president is in a seated position with one arm lifted for an embrace. A curved sandstone-inspired seating element complements the statue, creating a place for visitors to sit with Ford while overlooking a global map etched into the concrete.

“The airport authority has for many years had wonderful ways to celebrate and honor our parents’ legacy through special projects,” Mike Ford, the oldest son of the late president and his wife, Elizabeth Anne “Betty” Bloomer Ford, said in a video message shared during the unveiling. “Several of those have been championed and led by our dear friends, Ambassador Peter and Joan Secchia. We thank you for your wonderful friendship and for the ways in which you have kept my parents’ memories and legacies alive and strong right there in their home of Grand Rapids.

“Grand Rapids was a special place of love and devotion for my dad. The statue is an honor he would be humbled by. As a congressman, he passed through the airport thousands of times. The many visitors who come through the airport will now get to experience their favorite son, Jerry Ford.”

The Ford airport dedicated the area where the statue sits as the Presidential Gateway Plaza. It was designed and funded by The Gerald R. Ford International Airport Authority.

The statue of the president is the 12th in a series of statues that are a part of the Grand Rapids Community Legends Project that honors individuals who have shaped the culture and helped to build West Michigan.

Betty Ford also was memorialized in a bronze statue by the Community Legends Project. Others in the project series include U.S. Sen. Lucius Lyon, Chief Noahquageshik, Lyman Parks, Anna Sutherland Bissell and Jay Van Andel. The Grand Rapids Community Legends Project is funded by the Secchia family

“This statue holds a special place in our family members’ hearts,” said Charlie Secchia, Community Legends committee chair Charlie Secchia. “Not only was President Ford an adept and insightful leader in a tumultuous time, he was Grand Rapids’ favorite son and someone my parents are honored to have called a friend. We could not be prouder to call him our own and to dedicate this memorial as part of the Community Legends Project.”

The statue was designed by sculptor J. Brett Grill, who began working on it in the summer of 2019. He spent months researching the life and writings of the 38th president of the United States to crystallize all the vital aspects of Ford in one static moment, using the movement of the body, folds in the clothing and intricacy of expression.

“This sculpture stands in contrast to many of the existing monuments honoring presidents, which are typically posed and elevated,” Grill said. “Although President Ford was certainly ambitious, he was, by all accounts, an everyman, humble and unassuming, not your typical politician.

“To reflect that, the sculpture sits comfortably, welcoming travelers to have a seat next to the leader of the free world. He is approachable, amiable and honest: the quintessential family man. It is fitting this sculpture is placed at the Ford airport in his hometown. Even when he lived elsewhere, he remained our neighbor.”

Ford was a member of Congress for 25 years where his reputation for integrity earned him the position of House Minority Leader from 1965-73. He was appointed vice president by Richard M. Nixon in December 1973 and, following President Nixon’s resignation in 1974, became president of the United States.

“We are honored to be the new home of the latest sculpture in the Community Legends Project,” Ford Airport Authority President and CEO Tory Richardson said. “We appreciate the generosity of Ambassador and Mrs. Secchia and their family in commissioning and donating this important work of art to our community. The statue and plaza will welcome West Michigan residents, travelers and visitors for generations to come, reminding us all of the tremendous statesman and community advocate we had in President Ford.”

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