An(ne) Amazing First Lady

Jim Amidon — Wabash College held its 168th Commencement exercises on Sunday, starting with the Baccalaureate Chapel and ending with 203 young men earning their sheepskin diplomas late in the afternoon.

Commencement traditions continued with the awarding of honorary doctorates to a pair of prominent alumni, inventor Bruce Baker and Admiral Alex Miller. There was even a surprise for outgoing president Andy Ford when he, too, was awarded an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters

This year was not completely traditional. This year marked the end of the Ford era at Wabash, an era of growth and prosperity for the College dating back 13 years. President Ford was honored with tributes, resolutions, and even a Sagamore of the Wabash from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels.

For me, though — and for President Ford, I suspect —†the highlight of the weekend came Saturday night when First Lady Anne Ford was paid the ultimate compliment. The National Association of Wabash Men named her an honorary alumna in the Class of 2006.

She certainly deserves that diploma.

She might not have attended many classes, if any, but she certainly earned her stripes as a Little Giant. From traveling the country meeting alumni to serving as a most gracious hostess on campus, Anne Ford has played a pivotal and dynamic role along side and apart from her husband.

Believe me when I say that what Anne means to Wabash goes way, way beyond the “behind every good man” cliche. Anne has become as synonymous with Wabash as anyone.

The citation that was presented to her Saturday night captured in small measure what she has meant to Wabash, its faculty, staff and students, and its alumni. In even smaller measure, it celebrated her role in the Crawfordsville community as a board member for the Christian Nursing Service, Montgomery County Community Foundation, and Youth Service Bureau.

If you have a young child, you probably know that each year at Halloween she decorates the Elston Homestead and dresses up to pass out candy to happy trick-or-treaters. She loves kids — anybody’s kids — and seems to bring out the very best in children.

If you served on a local agency board with her, you know that she always knows exactly what to say — to cheer you up, make your day, or get you to think differently about something.

As Kitty Haffner said in a recent tribute, “Anne is the kind of friend everyone needs: she makes you laugh, she doesn’t take life or herself too seriously, she takes time to listen and care, and then she stretches your comfort zone from time to time.”

Alumni adore Anne so much that when President Ford travels to Los Angeles or New York on behalf of the College, the first question from alumni tends to be, “Where’s Anne?”

Alumni are fond of her because makes them feel at home when they return to Wabash, and she takes the Wabash they remember and love out to them, whether that’s Orlando, Seattle, or Tulsa. The National Association’s tribute Saturday night made all of us at Wabash feel good because it acknowledged her many contributions in making Wabash a stronger institution.

To quote the tribute, “Anne, there are simply not enough adjectives to describe what you have meant and will continue to mean to Wabash College. But in the true spirit of Wabash, one phrase sums up our feelings for you: Anne Ford: Some Little Giant!”

For so many of us in attendance Saturday night, that gesture was a fitting addition to a weekend of tributes and traditions.