- Young Jerry Ford: Athlete and Citizen by Booraem, Hendrik V
Hendrik Booraem V, the author of several books on the formative years of U.S. presidents, turns his attention to Gerald Ford in his latest work, Young Jerry Ford: Athlete and Citizen. He presents a positive view of Ford, portraying the future president as a clean-cut, “All-American boy” with above average academic and athletic abilities. Grounded in research from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, the Grand Rapids Public Library, and interviews of the former president’s brother and his high school classmates, Booraem credits Ford’s family and Midwestern upbringing, along with his participation in youth organizations and athletics, with supplying him with the necessary moral character to lead the United States during a turbulent time in its history.
Ford was born on July 14, 1913, in the midst of a turbulent marriage between his father, Leslie L. King, and his mother, Dorothy Ayer Gardner. Originally named Leslie L. King, Jr., after his father, and called “Junior” for the majority of his childhood, he remained with his mother after she divorced his father in December of 1913. After briefly living in Chicago, Dorothy and Junior settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan. His mother [End Page 502] joined the local Episcopal Church, where she met Gerald R. Ford. The two married in 1917 and created a stable environment for Junior and his future brothers. Booraem credits Ford’s mother for teaching him the importance of honesty, moderation, and self-control. His stepfather played such an influential part in his life that Junior began referring to himself as “Jerry” during his teenage years and officially changed his name to “Gerald R. Ford, Jr.” after finishing high school. Booraem emphasizes the role of Ford’s mother and stepfather for providing Ford with a moral center, positive character traits, and strong role models.
The author highlights the role sports and activities played in Ford’s childhood and adolescence. His recreational pastimes ranged from swimming at the local YMCA to playing with his brothers and neighborhood friends to taking ballroom dancing classes at his Aunt Marjory’s studio. He was a member of the Boy Scouts of America, achieving the rank of Eagle Scout at the age of fourteen years old in 1927. In addition to these organized pursuits, Ford also had an active social life in high school, helped his mother with household responsibilities and his stepfather at his business, especially during the first years of the Great Depression. Through these aspects of his childhood, Ford is seen as a well-rounded young man with an appreciation for community and a sense of duty.
Football plays a critical role in Ford’s development. During his high school years, Ford rose from junior varsity to the varsity football squad at South High School, where he earned all-city and all-state honors. After graduation, Ford chose to attend the University of Michigan, where he won the Meyer Morton Trophy for the best freshman player, during sophomore and junior years he served as the backup center on Michigan’s national championship teams in 1932 and 1933, and was a standout player his senior year. After his college career, Ford turned down contract offers from the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions and accepted an assistant coaching position at Yale. He quit his coaching career upon gaining admission to Yale Law School, a move that completely changed the trajectory of his life. According to the author, Ford’s football career instilled a strong work ethic, a sense of fair play, and leadership skills.
Even though Booraem’s overall tone is too hagiographic, he does provide a good sketch of Ford’s early life and the role sports played in it. He also includes a strong demographic outline of Grand Rapids in the 1920s and 1930s, the effects of the Great Depression on the city’s economy, and a wealth of photographs from Ford’s childhood and Grand Rapids during the same era. This book would...