By the time the next newsletter hits your mailbox, you will have a new president (don’t all cheer at once!). Since this is my last “Notes,” I thought I would share some of my memories of Mr. Ford; so many of you never got to meet the man behind your scholarship.
In 1994, I received a letter telling me I was one of 45 people selected to interview for a Ford Family Foundation Scholarship. I had no idea what that was (the car company?), or how they got my name since I didn’t apply for it. Turns out, the Scholarship Commission pulled candidates from all the applications received that year for every scholarship administered by the state. You see, Kenneth Ford wanted to start his Ford Scholars Program in 1994, and he wouldn’t be dissuaded just because the official applications hadn’t been widely distributed yet. He was determined, and I doubt many things ever stood in the way of a determined Kenneth Ford.
At our first conference, we learned that to Kenneth Ford, “casual attire” meant a tie, slacks, loafers and a short-sleeved dress shirt.
Mr. Ford’s vision was for us to be “Ford Scholars for life.” To him, this wasn’t about finances. He told us plain and simple: “I didn’t give you money. I invested in you, and I expect a return on my investment.”
At our home-spun talent show, when Annie Tester played the piano while I sang “Climb Every Mountain,” Mr. Ford cried. Like, really cried.
He insisted we have Bananas Foster after dinner, even though it was quite expensive for a group our size. He wanted us to feel special (and really, what’s more special than a flaming dessert?).
Mr. Ford really listened to us. He wanted to know what we thought and why. He wasn’t shy about giving his opinion when he disagreed, but it was only because he genuinely had our best interests at heart.
When the first 16 of us graduated from college in 1996, we decided to perform a little makeshift “cap and gown” ceremony at Salishan for Mr. Ford. It was supposed to be fun, but it quickly turned into one of the most deeply touching, emotionally moving evenings I’ve ever experienced.
Scholar after Scholar took the microphone to tell their stories – first generation Americans who were the only college graduates in their families, people who’d triumphed over extreme adversity, people who’d only dreamt of achieving their academic and professional goals… a single mom with three young children, trying to make a better life for her family (yes, that was me).
Among us sat a humble man whose own dream made these feats possible. And he had tears streaming down his face, as did everyone there (even the servers!). Yes, he paid our way through school, but far more importantly, he believed in us and somehow made each of us feel like we could accomplish just about anything. He was witnessing the first fruits of his labor that evening, and he was tremendously proud of each one of us.
Mr. Ford passed away the following year, and several of us drove to Roseburg to attend his funeral. I don’t think I ever felt more honored to be a Ford Scholar than on that day. Bonnie Ford told us later that as much as Kenneth had touched our lives, we had also touched his. He was more patient, laughed more, and even danced with her on a cruise they’d taken together, something he just didn’t do.
Mr. Ford told us, “You are special. Now go out there and be special.” Sure, it was for those of us in the room at the time, but I know if he could see the 1600+ members of the Ford Scholar Alumni Association, he would say the same thing to each of you. I hope each of you will carry that in your hearts as you make your way through life.
It has truly been my honor to serve this organization, and I hope more of you will get involved. Ford Scholars are among the best human beings I’ve ever met; you truly are special.