Presidents’ Day event reflects on impact of leaders


GVL / Sydney Lim

Jonathan Carroll, Staff Writer

On Feb. 21,  the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies at Grand Valley State University hosted an event for Presidents’ Day that featured journalist and author Kate Anderson Brower. Brower spoke to students about the lives of previous presidents, first ladies and the staff that worked under them. 

Megan Rydecki, the director of the Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, said the Ford Presidential Library and Museum is the connecting piece that brought Brower to GVSU. 

GVSU Student Body President Faith Kidd spoke about what her role has been like and how her ambitions have changed over time.

“If you would have met me two years ago when I first started at Grand Valley, I would have told you I was going to be a CEO, and I was going to be President of the United States, and I was going to run a think tank and all of these fabulous things,” Kidd said. “I’m still considering them but I don’t dream of being on top anymore.” 

Kidd said she appreciates and acknowledges the supporting roles that have allowed her to succeed in her position. She highlighted the importance of the vice president and other student body roles that help to bring about change in the university. 

Brower has worked as a member of the White House Press Corps and has had her work published in The New York Times and Bloomberg News. Brower opened her speech by telling stories of the Grand Rapids-raised President Gerald R. Ford. Many of the stories revolved around the friendly and laid-back attitude that the Ford family brought to the White House. 

“Milton Frame, the White House carpenter, was really impressed by Mrs. Ford’s approachable manner,” Brower said. “He talked about how she would invite him to have tea in the residence and just how different it was from Pat Nixon, who was so much more formal.”

Brower spoke about the strong relationships that many of the White House staff built with each president and their families, no matter what their political beliefs were. 

Brower said through her research, she found that each first lady had important roles and strengths. She said Betty Ford was her favorite first lady she researched. Brower felt Ford’s openness with her diagnosis of breast cancer helped to destigmatize mammograms and that her ability to speak about the health of women had a positive influence. 

Towards the end of the program, Brower delved into the relationships between the past presidents, how they worked together or when they criticized one another. 

She said Ralph Hauenstein, an intelligence aide to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the namesake of the GVSU Presidential Center, reminded her of something the former president had said. Eisenhower spoke of the presidency and country as being so much bigger than the people that take on the job as commander-in-chief.

“While the former presidents are very different in their philosophies, how they lived their lives and how they got to the pinnacle of power, they all strongly believe in the country, a peaceful transfer of power and the Constitution,” Brower said. “There’s a sense that they are bound together.”

The Hauenstein Center has many other events planned in the coming months that tackle a multitude of issues such as housing in the Grand Rapids and Kent County Communities. They hope to reach many more students and create a stronger community through conversations and events.