December 27, 2006 at 4:12 pm

Grand Rapids mourns Ford

GRAND RAPIDS --Word of Gerald Ford's death brought scores of mourners to the presidential museum here that bears his name.

Gerald R. Ford Museum curator Don Holloway said mourners began arriving as early as 3 a.m. to place flowers and other tributes in front of the museum sign. The first mourners to sign a condolence registry in the vestibule were there at 7 a.m. By 11 a.m., more than 100 people had signed.

The registry sat on a table below a color portrait of the president and next to a bouquet of roses, irises and lilies.

Behind the table, etched on the marble wall, are these words from Ford's 1974 inaugural address:

"You have not elected me as your president by your ballots and so I ask you to confirm me as your president with your prayers. I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it . . . God helping me, I will not let you down."

Sandra Smith, 57, of Grandville, was among those who showed up on a gray, 35-degree morning to say goodbye to the 38th president, who represented Grand Rapids in Congress.

"President Ford embodied the essence of honor and dignity," Smith said wiping away a tear. "Blessed are the peacemakers. He represented calm in the midst of the storm, and that's why God allowed him to live to be 93."

At 3 p.m. today, officials at Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park planned to surround the Gerald R. Ford Grove with 38 luminaries to honor the nationís 38th president. The small grove of Michigan native trees, selected by Mr. Ford and his wife, Betty, was planted during construction of the facility in 1995 and the former president was on hand at the dedication.

The luminaries, which will line the grove until 9 p.m. today (Wednesday), will be lit for a second time when President Fordís body is returned to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum a few miles away in downtown Grand Rapids, said Rick Jensen, a spokesman for Meijer Gardens. The time and date of that ceremony has not yet been determined, he added.

Well-wishers also placed bouquets of roses, University of Michigan football jerseys, poinsettias and more than 50 candles in front of the stone museum sign on Pearl Street near downtown Grand Rapids.

"He was an honorable man who did America a great service," said Melissa Peters, a 37-year-old homemaker from Hudsonville.

Holloway, the museum curator, said Ford would be buried amid evergreens on rolling land overlooking the Grand River, north of the museum. The burial site is surrounded by a black, wrought iron fence.

Holloway said a service will be held in Grand Rapids, but said details would be coming from the Ford family.

Susan R. Pollack contributed. You can reach Mark Hornbeck at (313) 222-2470 or mhornbeck@detnews.com">mhornbeck@detnews.com.

John Hicks of Grand Rapids signs the condolence registry at the Gerald R. ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)