GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Staff at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and Library have been busy, though the campus of the museum has been quiet.
That's because the museum in downtown Grand Rapids has been closed since March 2020, but the staff has continued to serve its function as a research source for all things relating to the nation’s 38th president, “answering reference questions, research questions, providing information to the public,” says Joel Westphal, deputy director of the museum and library.
While the exhibits familiar to previous visitors are unchanged (except for styluses that can be used to activate interactive displays so you don’t have to touch any screens), there are plans in the works: “We are expecting an extraordinarily big temporary exhibit coming in October,” says Westphal, though he was not at liberty to discuss it beyond stating an announcement will be coming in August.
The facility has the dual name – museum and library – because the Ford library is located in Ann Arbor on the campus of the University of Michigan, where Ford went to college and played on the football team. The museum is the one in Grand Rapids on Pearl Street just west of US-131.
The museum is now officially open, but the schedule is temporarily limited: Thursdays and Fridays 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays noon to 5 p.m.
Tickets ($10) are not available at the door; you can only buy tickets online at the museum’s website.
Westphal notes that the staff used the down time during the pandemic also to perform normal upkeep on the building and take down a temporary exhibit that had to be shipped out. The iconic fountain on the museum grounds is not running and the pool is empty. Museum officials are assessing the condition of the fountain and its future.
The museum’s most notable exhibits are still there: The metal staircase from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon that was critical to final evacuations, for which an update is planned; a replica of the Oval Office as decorated by the Ford administration; a model of the next-generation aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford and the story of its construction.
The museum preserves the story of “President Ford's time and service in Second World War,” says Westphal, “his time on ship, how he got to become from a congressman, the vice president, the president of the United States. And that kind of evolution of his of his career, through Congress and up to the presidency. There's a lot to see here.”