Ford funeral helps recall memories of earlier visit

Published 5:08 am Wednesday, January 3, 2007

By By MICHAEL C. GUILMETTE JR. / Niles Daily Star
NILES – As President Gerald R. Ford returns to his home state one final time, a Niles resident remembers another time when the president returned home – and the father who played football with him.
James Snyder, the pharmacist at Snyder's Pharmacy in Niles, said his father, the late Austin M. Snyder, attended South High School with Ford in Grand Rapids, playing as a tackle as a senior while the future president was a sophomore on the team.
"Dad said he lived two and a half blocks away from Ford," Snyder said. "He was a neighborhood kid."
Snyder said his father regularly told the story of his connection to Ford, but the president himself confirmed it when he visited Niles in 1976. On May 15 of that year, Ford delivered a speech at the Amtrak station in Niles during a campaign whistlestop, and Snyder said he was with his father at the event.
"During the visit, Ford waved and said 'Hi Austin,'" Snyder said. "He was happy he saw him, and very proud."
Austin Snyder worked as a pharmacist in Niles from 1937 to 1967. James Snyder took over then and has worked there ever since.
President Ford died Dec. 26, 2006, at is home in Rancho Mirage, Calif. He was 93. On Tuesday, Ford's body was brought to Grand Rapids for public viewing as part of the state funeral proceedings. Thousands were reported to have lined up to view the casket.
Jim Meyer, funeral director for Halbritter Funeral Homes in Niles, attended the viewing.
"I found the end of the line at 6:15 p.m.," Meyer said. "From there, I waited two miles and four and a half hours. When we left, the line was considerably longer."
Meyer said Jack Ford, the president's son, greeted them as they left the viewing.