GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. --A $7 million museum honoring Gerald Ford's presidency was dedicated before more than 250,000 people today, with President Ronald Reagan hailing Ford as the man who "healed America because he so thoroughly understood America."
In a speech prepared for delivery at the dedication of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, Reagan called his fellow Republican "a good President who led us well, a good man who sought to serve others."
"His was and is an unquestioning belief in the soundness of our way of governing and in the resiliency of our people," Reagan said.
"Gerald Ford healed America because he understood the adventure of America - her way of governing, her people, and the source of her strength as a nation," Reagan said.
Ford served 2 1/2 years in the nation's highest office after being thrust into the job in 1974, when the Watergate scandal forced President Richard Nixon to resign.
"Gerald Ford woke us from that nightmare" of Watergate, Reagan said. "And during our Bicentennial, he reminded the American people of the collective wisdom of their ways and the remarkable achievements of their past."
"Today, many of us in public life - from this country and others - have come here to speak words of tribute to Gerald Ford," said Reagan, referring to the prominent politicians and international leaders on the dais along the Grand River.
"The millions of Americans who soon hear or read these words will not long remember them but can be sure that in their minds and hearts there will be a flash of recognition and a swell of gratitude . . . that if put into words would result in a simple statement by his countrymen about Gerald Ford: He was a good President who led us well - a good man who sought to serve others."'
At midmorning, Police Chief Francis Pierce estimated at 250,000 the number of people lining the parade route and camped in front of the museum.
Grand Rapids has been celebrating the dedication all week, timing it to coincide with the formal unveiling of its refurbished downtown.
Today's activities were to begin with a parade through downtown with Betty Ford as grand marshal. Ford and Reagan were to tour the museum before the dedication.
Thousands of people were expected to line the banks of the Grand River to hear Reagan and other leaders speak at the ceremony.
The museum contains the only full-scale replica of the White House Oval Office and among the exhibits is the original letter in which Ford pardoned his predecessor, Richard Nixon, an event thought to figure in Ford's failure to win election in his own right in 1976.
Reagan and Ford fought a bitterly contested race for the 1976 Republican presidential nomination, which Ford won after a late primary charge by Reagan. In 1980, Ford was the strong party supporter, campaigning for Reagan against the man who beat Ford in the 1976 election, Jimmy Carter.
Last night, about 2500 guests watched the taping of a Bob Hope television show to be broadcast later.
"Jerry Ford was in Congress a long time. The only way to get rid of him was to make him President," Hope quipped. He often plays golf with Ford, 68, in Palm Springs, Calif., where the former President now lives.
"I loved it and I don't usually even like Bob Hope," said Norma Brink, 52, an elementary school principal. "I've lived here all my life and I've never been so proud of Grand Rapids. I can't wait for all my snobbish friends in California to see this."
Earlier, at a $1000-a-plate dinner, the dignitaries and Grand Rapids residents filled an enormous tent pitched inside the city's new convention center. At each placesetting was a gold-plated coin bearing Ford's likeness and the presidential seal.
Among those at the head table were the Fords, Reagan and his wife, Nancy, Vice President George Bush, Mexican President Jose Lopez Portillo, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Japanese Foreign Minister Sunao Sonoda and former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing.
House Speaker Thomas O'Neill was seated at a nearby table, as was former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Also expected for the museum opening were Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, Sen. Edward Kennedy, Michigan Gov. William Milliken and the state's two senators.