[Ford  Family Picture]

Gerald Ford with his wife Betty; three sons, Jack, Mike, and Steve and daughter, Susan.

Gerald R. Ford - Sadowski Descendant
(July 14, 1913 - Dec. 26, 2006)

Anthony Sadowski, the progenitor of the most famous Polish family in America, was an ancestor of Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States, who died in his home at Rancho Mirage, California, on December 26. More about the Polish bloodline later.

The nation started to pay their last respects to the great-great-great great-great-grandson of Sadowski three days after his death when a black hearse, with a flag of the stars and stripes on each front fender and the presidential seal on the sides, took his 93-year-old body to Palm Desert, California, where a military honor guard carried the coffin into St. Margaret's Episcopal Church for a private prayer service. The body was then flown to Washington, D. C., for more farewell events. Before lying in state in the Rotunda of the U. S. Capitol for two days of public viewing, there were stops in Alexandria, Va., where his four children were born and raised during his congressional years, and the World War II Memorial honoring Ford and others who went to war on land, on sea, and in the air around the world. After the last funeral service at the National Cathedral, Ford's remains were taken to Grand Rapids, Michigan, for burial on a hillside next to his presidential museum.

It was a complete surprise when Ford, who had been first elected to Congress in 1948 from Grand Rapids, Michigan, succeeded President Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace on August 9, 1974. His pardon of Nixon soon afterwards probably cost him to lose the election in 1976 for president of the United States.


In the years to come, when your children come to you and say, "Who was President Ford? Did he have anything in common with us?" you will smile wisely and make believe you didn't hear the questions.

It reminded me of Katarzyna Dobosz of Bialy Orzel. in Boston who asked me recently what I have learned about the Polish people in the United States that is new. It's hard to imagine that a person with a Polish bloodline would head a nation of 260,000,000 people -- almost ten times the population of Poland -- but Gerald R. Ford was the first president in the White House with Polish roots. The nation he headed now has 330,000,000 people.

He was born Leslie King on July 14, 1913, in Omaha, Nebraska, the only child of Leslie and Dorothy Gardner King. His parents, who had been married on September 7, 1912, at Harvard, Illinois, were descended from Philip King, who came from Devonshire, England, in 1730, and Anthony Sadowski, who came from Poland about thirty years before King.

On the Polish side, it looked like the children of Anthony Sadowski were born in New Jersey and raised, from 1712 on, in Pennsylvania. During that time the Polish pioneer traded largely with Indians in Ohio and Pennsylvania, exchanging furs for goods manufactured in England, and despite denials of a few diehard Sanduskyites, his family insisted that Sandusky, Ohio, was named after him. In the middle of the 17th century, after the murder of Andrew Sadowski, the fur trader's son, in what is now West Virginia, the family changed its name for the most part to Sandusky.

Not Anna Sadowski, however, who married Increase Miller before her father died in 1736 in what is now Douglassville, in Berks County, Pennsylvania. She inherited a lot of farm animals and a little money when 300 acres of Anthony Sadowski's farm was sold and moved to Bedford, New York. Increase Miller, who was born in Pennsylvania, was a sergeant in the New York militia during the American Revolution. Keziah, the sixth of their eleven children, married Jesse Miller and moved to Tioga, New York, where they died. In the years to come, Jesse Miller, who had the same name as his father, married Rachel Seymour and moved to what is now Barrington, Illinois, 27 miles northwest of Chicago, to start another family. Their daughter Sarah (Sally), married Alexander Gardner, a Scottish immigrant, and their son, Levi Addison Gardner (1861-1916), was the grandfather of President Ford.


In the 1960s, when I was chairman of the Sadowski Memorial Committee, I picked up photographs of various descendants of Anthony Sadowski and asked Henry Archacki, a New York graphic artist and a close colleague, to create a composite sketch of Anthony Sadowski out of them. Steve Gallus, a sculptor of Reading, Pa., used Archacki's creation to carve the figure of a frontiersman on the memorial that was unveiled in 1968 on Anthony Sadowski's grave in St. Gabriel's Episcopal Cemetery at Douglassville, Pa.

If one matches the image of Anthony Sadowski on his memorial to a picture of Ford in a naval officer's uniform in 1942, it's amazing to see the similarities in the faces. When he came from Poland, Sadowski was about the same age as Ford was in 1942. Whatever the medium, the impression was as honest and steadfast as a great burst of light. The noses, eyes, and broad foreheads, which are often seen in Polish faces, gave the carving on the Sadowski memorial and the Ford photograph -- and, yes, the photograph of his mother, which I have seen in a newspaper -- practically the same glow.

In reality Ford looked like his mother, and his daughter, Susan, looked more like him than her mother. One wonders whether the faces differed much from generation to generation. It's hard to imagine their noses, eyes, and broad foreheads less touched by time.

No one is exactly certain how much Ford knew about his Sadowski genes. Much of it is still hard to come by. As I have hunted for Sadowski's grave for a long time and tracked thousands of his descendants since the 1960s, I have more than twenty linear feet of material on the Sadowski clan. Anthony Sadowski: Polish Pioneer, which I wrote in 1968, is available to everybody on my website (www.Poles.org). Ford's presidential museum in Grand Rapids has very little on the famous Polish frontiersman.


For most, who had never known of his early life, the story of President Ford's names is an enigma. It is one of the reasons that Sadowski has gone unnoticed.

When he was two weeks old, his mother left her husband because he had a drinking problem and moved with her infant son, first to her sister's home in Oak Park, Illinois, and then stayed with her parents in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After little more than a year of marriage, Dorothy Gardner, the kin of Anthony Sadowski, got a divorce from Leslie King. In 1917, she married Gerald R. Ford, a paint salesman in Grand Rapids, and started to call her son Gerald instead of Leslie.

Hence his past was mostly a blank to him until he worked in a restaurant after school when he was 17 years old. One day Leslie King, who had not seen his son of the same name since the divorce from Dorothy Gardner on December 13, 1913, walked into the restaurant and asked the 17-year-old boy if his name was Leslie King. The boy didn't know. If his mother didn't him want to know where he came from, his grandfather, Levi Ayer Gardner, who could have told him a lot, died on May 9, 1916. It was a shock to him that the man identified himself as his father. On December 3, 1935, four or five years after the incident, the boy's name was legally changed to Gerald R. Ford Jr. Leslie King died on February 18, 1941, at Tucson, Arizona.

The future president was listed as Gerald Rudolph Ford in football, which he played in high school and the University of Michigan, and Yale, where he was a football coach and a law student. After graduation from Yale Law School in 1941, he practiced law in Grand Rapids until April of 1942 when he went into the Navy. He served as an officer on the USS Monterey, a light aircraft carrier, during the war in the Pacific. He returned to Grand Rapids in 1946 and soon did two things that changed the course of his life. The same year he was elected to Congress, he married Elizabeth Ann (Betty) Bloomer, with whom he had four children, and the rest is history.