Grand Rapids Community College kicked homecoming week off with a bang by holding the rededication ceremony for the Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse in the Gordon Hunsberger Arena on Monday afternoon.
The guest of honor was Mike Ford, the first born son of former President Gerald R. Ford and First Lady Betty Ford. Before the ceremony began, Ford toured the facilities and got a chance to see all the upgrades and renovations that had been done to the building named after his late father.
“I guess the first impression is how bright it seems and open,” Ford said. “(It’s) clean and functional, too. There’s spaces and classrooms and… the large gymnasium where it’s very multi-purpose. So it can be used for a lot of different functions. It also seems very student friendly… I just think it’s a very inviting space that will serve a lot of (the) GRCC community.”
Ford talked about the honor of having his family’s name on the building and the legacy his father left behind, even pointing to a photo of his dad that hangs in the entrance way to the fieldhouse.
“It means a great deal to the Ford family,” Ford said. “It feels like maybe his spirit or his essence is kind of captured in this space, not only with his picture, but also with the ways in which the building brings life and vitality and learning and some of the values of competition and wellness and excellence and community. All those things represent my father.”
When the ceremony was ready to begin, hundreds of current and former students, student athletes and faculty members gathered in the south end of the Hunsberger Arena to take part in the ceremony.
Kent County District Court Judge and GRCC alumna Sara J. Smolenski was first to speak. Smolenski is a former recipient of the GRCC Salute to Women award and also the Distinguished Alumna award. Smolenski reminisced about her days playing basketball for the Raiders and what the Ford Fieldhouse meant to her.
“I was a kid, once, years ago, and my team was the first team that got to use the ‘new’ Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse,” Smolenski said. “What a thrill it was for us… It was like winning the lottery when we got to come to this new facility… We felt like we were real collegiate athletes… The Gerald R. Ford Fieldhouse was a big part of where we spent our time. Not that we didn’t focus on academics because we did, a little bit.”
Smolenski went on to thank Ford for his family’s commitment to Grand Rapids and GRCC saying that even though she played basketball for the University of Michigan, her “best days playing ball were (at) Grand Rapids (Community) College right here in this fieldhouse.”
Smolenski finished and introduced GRCC President Bill Pink. Pink began by thanking all of the GRCC student athletes for being proud Raiders on and off the court, and on and off the field.
“This facility, while it is for this community, while it is for this faculty and staff, it is by far… for you (GRCC athletes),” Pink said. “So thank you to our student athletes and our students who are here today.”
Pink then told a story of a conversation he overheard a few years ago while sitting inside the Ford Fieldhouse. He overheard someone saying they didn’t know GRCC had athletics. That inspired Pink to make sure that the facilities at GRCC were topnotch and left no doubt in anyone’s mind.
“I want to make sure that this facility is one that when people walk in, not only do they realize that we have some really, really good athletic programs here,” Pink said. “But this is an institution that will show anyone who walks in these doors that the facility is indeed state of the art… This facility, now as it stands with the help of many people, is now a facility that this institution, and this city and this region can be proud of.”
Pink then played a quick video that highlighted some of the amazing things that the Ford Fieldhouse has hosted. Many proud athletic programs to presidential speeches from the Likes of Ford himself, to George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter.
When the video ended, the honorary guest finally took the stage. As Ford made his way to the microphone the entire audience gave him a warm applause. Ford thanked the GRCC community for the honor to represent his father and family. Ford talked about how impressed he was by the facilities, comparing them to many others he has seen in his career in higher education.
“I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many colleges and universities across the country,” Ford said. “And what I witnessed today, and heard today, I can tell you as a professional that this facility is one of the most impressive and most well functioned and well equipped fieldhouses that I personally have witnessed in 40 years.”
Ford made mention of his dad’s love of athletics, highlighting his two national championships as a member of the Michigan Wolverines football team, followed by a big, “Go Blue.” He spoke of his father’s values and what his two biggest passions were.
“Two of the primary callings, his passions for… athletics — competition, and his passion for service,” Ford said. “His devotion for caring for others in this community.”
Ford then echoed his earlier sentiments saying he believes “the life, the spirit, the essence” of his father is imbedded in the Ford Fieldhouse. He closed by saying the facility representing academics and athletics is who his father was, “and that would give him great joy.”
As Ford left the stage, Smolenski came back up to introduce the next speaker. Before she did though, she thanked Ford for coming to the ceremony and said, “Wish we could vote for you for president, okay, I’m probably getting in trouble for saying that.” After a big laugh from the audience, GRCC Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Tina Hoxie came to the podium.
Hoxie talked about some of the new features of the building and bragged about the success of GRCC athletics at the national level. This legacy is where the idea for the GRCC legacy stripe originated from which can be seen in the halls of the Fieldhouse.
“We’re proud of our athletic legacy,” Hoxie said. “And you’ll see that story told on our walls. A mural showcasing GRCC’s student athletes of today and our historic past… We hope people look at the walls to see their parents and grandparents, and even themselves and know that we have a strong connection to our past.”
As the ceremony was coming to a close, Smolenski came back on stage and couldn’t help but make the audience laugh and cheer one more time. She loudly cheered with her hands held high, “Go Raiders, go Raiders! Hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray, hip hip hooray!”