In commemoration of President Gerald R. Ford’s 105th birthday, several U.S. Navy sailors from the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) — the newest and most high-tech aircraft carrier — are spending a few days in Ford’s hometown of Grand Rapids. The crew members included some Michigan residents:
- Lt. Sarah Brower; Grand Haven, Mich.
- Chief Petty Officer (ABEC) Jeremy Stoecklein; Hutchinson, Kan.
- Petty Officer First Class (ABE1) Jennifer Terry; Milan, Mich.
- Petty Officer Second Class (RP2) Christopher Atwood; Livonia, Mich.
- Petty Officer Second Class (MC2) Jason Pastrick; Grand Rapids, Mich.
The first stop on their West Michigan tour was to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital to meet with patients who are veterans, including; Ralph Beggs (Army), Billy Davis, (Marines), Louis Gohr (Navy), Harley Rillema (Navy), Paul Tatreau (Air Force) and Robert Vangeest (Army).
Guests at a welcome party for the sailors were given USS Gerald R. Ford CVN 78 hats, commemorative coins and cookies decorated with images of the aircraft carrier. Mary Free Bed staff joined in the event.
“It was a great surprise and meant a lot to meet with them,” said Paul Tatreau, Air Force veteran and current Mary Free Bed patient. Paul met President Ford while he was on a service call for his furnace company: “They invited me to stay and have a steak. It was great.”
Mary Free Bed’s relationship with the Ford family dates back to the early 1930s, when Ford’s mother-in-law, Hortense Neahr Bloomer, was president of the Mary Free Bed Guild. Former first lady Betty Ford was a founding member of the Mary Free Bed Junior Guild. In 2013, the Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program was named in her honor. The Ford’s daughter, Susan Ford Bales, is an honorary member of the Mary Free Bed Guild.
The sailor’s tour of Grand Rapids also includes stops at the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, Kids’ Food Basket and a visit with the Boy Scouts to award scouts with their badges. The trip culminates in a private wreath-laying ceremony Saturday at President Ford’s tomb at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.