Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. Photo by Don Bryant

On the west bank of the Grand River stands the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and, just to the north, are the grave sites of the late president and first lady.

Ford, the only un-elected president of the United States and the only president from Michigan, and his wife, Betty, both grew up in Grand Rapids. Ford was our 38th president, serving from August 1974 to January 1977.

The museum at 303 Pearl St. NW is across the Grand River from DeVos Place, the site of the National Genealogy Society’s national conference in Grand Rapids May 2-5, 2018. It’s accessible by foot using the Gillett Bridge, which connects DeVos Place and the museum, which is the location of Western Michigan Genealogical Society’s Host Event at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 4, $25, featuring dessert, coffee and the Schubert Male Chorus. Price includes museum admission and exhibit areas.

In 1981, the museum’s dedication was a pivotal event in the reshaping of downtown Grand Rapids, which has seen more than $1 billion of investment since that event, which drew political dignitaries and celebrities.

Edged by the city’s waterfront Ah-Nab-Awen Park, the building features a 300-foot window wall overlooking the Grand River, replica of the Oval Office, a gift shop and an auditorium. A $13 million renovation and expansion in 2016 brought the museum to 54,000 square feet.

The west end of the Gillett foot bridge over the Grand River

West end of the Gillett Bridge over the Grand River. Photo by Don Bryant

Some 15,000 square feet are devoted to the permanent exhibit. An array of changing exhibits are housed in a 3,500-square-foot gallery. Open during the NGS conference, and continuing through Jan. 6, 2019, is “In Step With Betty Ford: A Celebration of Her Centennial,” focusing on the First Lady, a dancer and model who married the future president in the midst of his first congressional campaign in 1948.

Museum Hours of Operation: Monday – Saturday. 9:00 am – 5:00 pm; Sunday, 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm.

Admission: $8.00 for adults; $7.00 for senior citizens and military service members; $6.00 for college students with ID; $4.00 for youth ages 6-18; Free for children under the age of 5. Free parking is available.

The Fords’ genealogy can be found online here.

— Elizabeth Slowik for the Western Michigan Genealogical Society