Ford’s support of the Vail Valley’s arts apparent
VAIL – As busy as an ex-president’s life can grow – advising current leaders, hosting conferences and writing books – President Gerald Ford was never late to a Bravo! Vail Valley Music concert.Bravo! Executive Director John Giovando said he would have delayed the start of a show, but in the 15 years Ford was a patron, he never needed to. Ford and his wife, Betty, saw every resident orchestra Bravo! has hosted in its 19 years as a festival. He loved Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9” and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony, and Ford was always the first to stand during an ovation.”He loved the music,” Giovando said. “He would sit and talk to me at intermission about the history of the music and the composer and what was going on at the time when it was written. And I will always know that he read the program notes on the way into the show.”Both classical music fans, Giovando said one of his and Ford’s long-term goals was to build a chamber music hall. The Beaver Creek Arts Foundation was formed, on which they both sat on the board, and it eventually led to the building of the Vilar Center. Before that, chamber musicians played at the Beaver Creek Chapel, another building for which Ford helped to raise funds.Creating an amphitheaterFord was one of the Vail Valley’s biggest arts supporters, and for him, it wasn’t just about opening his checkbook – although he did that too. It wasn’t about seeing his name on a sign, either. Ford worked hard, attending board meetings and heading up committees, to help build the Gerald Ford Amphitheater, the Vilar Center, Betty Ford Alpine Gardens and the Vail Public Library, which are just the biggies. Ford considered Vail his home, and it was important to him that his mountain community have a high-caliber of cultural offerings.”He just cared about the place,” John Horan-Kates said, who, along with Ford, was one of the first board members of the Vail Valley Foundation. “He and the whole family have been coming here since the mid ’60s. They developed a fond relationship with the community and developed warm relationships with the people.”One of Ford’s first big projects, Horan-Kates recalls, was the amphitheater in the early ’80s. The idea was started by John Dobson, who was Vail’s mayor, and Fred Meyer. They raised a little bit of money and built the seats, but ran out of funds before the project was finished.”The seats, the same ones that are there today, sat there at least a year or so. They were covered up with sage brush and weeds, you almost couldn’t see them from the road,” Horan-Kates said. Dobson and Meyer approached the foundation to take over fundraising, which eventually led to naming the venue after Ford. The former president would attend meetings, tell the foundation who to call for funding and in some cases, Ford would make the calls himself, Horan-Kates said.”He was very actively involved. He was not an absentee trustee,” Horan-Kates said. “I don’t think he ever missed a meeting. I think he always asked the first question. His involvement really kept the rest of us on our toes.”Staying an extra dayThe Vail Valley Foundation grew into Ford’s main vehicle to promote art and culture. With the foundation, Ford helped to create the World Forum, an off-the-record weekend that every year brings some of the world’s most powerful political and business leaders to Beaver Creek. Ford has also made calls to clear diplomatic channels when dance companies from Cuba, China, and Russia were visiting for the Vail International Dance Festival.”He’s been a great resource in challenging times,” Ceil Folz, director of the Vail Valley Foundation, said. “When we had the World Mountain Bike Championships in 2001, it was right after 9/11. He had great advice for us.”Although Ford has taken a lot of big steps for Vail’s art scene, his community involvement started with small activities and events, former Vail minister Don Simonton said.”Many people who come here never get involved,” Simonton said. “They (the Fords) were.”For one of Vail’s anniversary celebrations, Ford was scheduled to be the keynote speaker at a ceremony just outside the old schoolhouse at the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens.”It just poured that day, so we couldn’t do it,” Simonton said. “Later, President Ford called and said ‘I’m staying an extra day so we can do this tomorrow.'”A variety showIt is one of Ford’s biggest events, the Jerry Ford Invitational Golf Tournament, and its illustrious variety show spin-off, however, that will probably be most remembered by the Vail community.Ford would invite golfers and entertainers to play in the charity tournament, and after the game was over, he would ask some of the celebrities, like Bob Hope, John Denver, Sammy Davis Jr. and Jackie Gleason, to perform for the golfers. The “concert” quickly outgrew its banquet setting, and eventually Ford opened it up to the public, selling tickets to the variety show to raise money for local charities.”What drove the move from the small little banquet room to the Dobson Ice Arena to the Ford Amphitheater was that President Ford was really into the people,” Kathy Meyer, the golf tournament director, said. “In every talk he gave at the golf tournament, he talked about the volunteers, the people in the community that made it possible to have a sporting event of that size and caliber. All the volunteers got a ticket.”Meyer, who was involved with the golf tournament since its inception, said she was most impressed by Ford’s generosity. “He never said no to anybody who asked anything of him,” Meyer said. “He cared mostly about all the people. That was the man. If somebody asked him if it was possible, he would do it, and that was big. President Ford was genuinely the kindest most compassionate man you could ever meet.”Vail Daily reporter Scott Miller contributed to this story.
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