Local resident to take part in Betty Ford funeral service

Bob Worthington was surprised to read about former first lady Betty Ford's death very early Saturday morning. He wasn't surprised, however, about the phone call he received just hours later. The Grand Haven Township trustee has been a volunteer with the Gerald R. Ford Foundation for two and a half years. He will be an usher at Betty Ford's funeral service in Grand Rapids on Thursday. "My heart goes out to the Ford family,' Worthington said. "I hope it's a great service for them to say good-bye to their loved one.'
Kyle Moroney
Jul 13, 2011

 

Worthington spoke with Joe Calvaruso, the foundation’s executive director, on the afternoon of Betty Ford’s death about plans for the foundation’s annual luncheon, which was scheduled for Thursday. They were unaware of Betty Ford’s death at that time.

Worthington, 36, said he first read about her death in the local newspaper early Saturday morning.

“I saw that she had died and knew I was going to be getting a call from (Calvaruso),” Worthington said. “And I did shortly after.” 

Worthington has since recruited about 10 people to help him make phone calls to special dignitaries invited to Thursday’s funeral. The group left several messages, as it was the weekend and they mainly were calling work-related telephone numbers.

“We got barraged Monday morning when people started getting their messages,” Worthington said.

The group, which is part of the foundation’s Betty Ford National Tribute Committee, called members of Ford’s extended family and friends, news leaders, heads of state, celebrities, doctors, support staff and “all the people they have gotten to know over the years,” Worthington said.

Personally, Worthington talked to former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan; and Elizabeth Dole, politician and wife of former Sen. Bob Dole; and left messages for newscasters Barbara Walters and Katie Couric, as well as members of the late President Gerald Ford’s former staff members — handling requests for nurses and wheelchairs, he said.

“We do anything we can to make sure they’re there,” Worthington said of the former president’s staff.

While Worthington joked he will not likely be walking prominent dignitaries down the aisle at Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids, where the funeral service will be held Thursday afternoon, he will be handing out pamphlets at the invitation-only service.

“It’s truly an honor to be part of it,” he said of his involvement. “I feel fortunate to be able to do it — to help out these past few days and be at the church during the service is an honor.”

Worthington, a senior vice president at Mercantile Bank of Michigan — which is just blocks away from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in downtown Grand Rapids — said he began volunteering at the museum because of his “love of history and wanting to share that with the West Michigan community.”

He recalls watching the late President Ford’s motorcade drive by during the funeral procession on that cold January day in 2007.

“With the military presence, it sent a powerful message,” Worthington said. “I remember it was freezing cold that day and thinking that the president is home. This is where he grew up and he’s finally home.”

The body of Betty Ford is expected to arrive in Grand Rapids today following the funeral service in California on Tuesday. Her body is to lie in repose at the Ford Museum, where public viewing will be from 7-11 tonight and from 7-10 a.m. Thursday.

Betty Ford, who died at age 93 on Friday, will be laid to rest next to her husband on the grounds of the Ford Museum. The museum will be adorned by about 40 4-by-6-foot American flags from the Grand Haven Area Jaycees until after the funeral services.

“I think it’s pretty cool to be a small part of history,” Grand Haven Area Jaycees President Tony Mausen said. “It’s just a good feeling that Grand Haven is part of this historical event.”

The public may sign a condolence book at the Ford Museum, where the lobby will be open 24 hours until further notice, according to the museum’s website.

Locally, Tri-Cities residents may sign a condolence book at Klaassen Family Funeral Home, 1500 Robbins Road in Grand Haven, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today through Friday. It will be turned over to the Ford Museum on July 19.

Kathy Van Domelen, who resides in Grand Haven in the summer and in California in the winter, is one of several people who signed the local condolence book.

“I did it because she’s done so much — such incredible things for women with breast cancer,” said Van Domelen, 50. “Instead of hiding it, she came out and braved her fear and unselfishly shared her secret to help them.

“Because of her, she’s helped different people in my life to improve their life,” Van Domelen continued. “... Look at how many people she’s effected with the opening of the Betty Ford Clinic and helped people with breast cancer. She touched a lot of people around her and she will be missed.”

 

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