Ford's family and a range of dignitaries and well-wishers joined together for a series of events in Grand Rapids hosted by the Ford Presidential Foundation, Library and Museum.
"He was simply a beautiful human being," former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker said. "He may have lacked glibness, but he had much, much more. He had character."
The events included a wreath-laying ceremony at Ford's tomb, a ribbon-cutting that marks the opening of a new exhibit on aircraft carriers at the Ford museum, and a luncheon featuring a lecture by Baker, who served as an undersecretary of commerce under Ford and then as secretary of state under President George H.W. Bush from 1989 to 1992.
Ford, a Republican, became president after Richard Nixon's resignation in 1974. Democrat Jimmy Carter defeated him in the 1976 election, and Baker said he agreed with historians who generally blame the loss on Ford's decision to pardon Nixon for any crimes committed in the Watergate scandal.
Had Ford won that election, "I'm absolutely convinced that his already considerable footprint in history would be considerably larger," Baker said.
He said Ford followed his own moral compass in reaching the decision to pardon Nixon, ignoring the advice of his advisers.
"I know that for a fact," said Baker, smiling. "Because I was one of them."
Ford was proud of how he helped heal the nation after Watergate, its greatest constitutional crisis, said Susan Ford Bales, his daughter.
"What Dad was proudest of was the group of men and women who were the core of his administration," she said.
Ford died in 2006, and former first lady Betty Ford died in 2011. They lived in Rancho Mirage, California, for decades. Their hometown was Grand Rapids.