Thursday, November 27, 2008

I Beg Your Pardon, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden

However, the White House Rose Garden was the site for a presidential pardon in 1976. One president was then lame duck Gerald R. Ford. The other president was Lue Shefren of Rock Island, IL, then leading the National Turkey Federation. I was an adolescent eager for a piece of fame and history and Michigan football.

My grandfather, my Popop, Lue, will always be a hero to me. Coming to the United States as a teenager from Poland, he struggled with the language, new customs, and the Great Depression, and reached the highest position in his industry. When Lue began working for Louis Rich, they were a chicken and eggs company in America's great midwest. Grateful to have a job, still Lue wanted to marry, and needed enough money to support a wife. Mr. Rich agreed that Lue could leave his processing plant job and become a buyer, but gave him no territory or leads. So Lue created his own, and purchased the first turkeys for the company.

He kept buying more turkeys, virtually creating the turkey industry in Iowa, especially among Amish farmers. Business boomed, the eggs disappeared from the product line, and turkey was not just for Thanksgiving any more. Along the way my charming Popop earned the respect of the industry, and was elected its president.

Now, it was tradition for the President of the United States to pardon a live turkey before Thanksgiving. There was pomp and ceremony and news coverage in the Rose Garden. Unfortunately, not all years are created equal. President Ford was already famous for another, controversial pardon, and he had just lost the election to Governor Jimmy Carter. Rumors flew that Mr. Ford would not have the pardoning ceremony that year, or that no family members would be allowed to attend.

Well, I'm not my Popop's granddaughter for nothing! I wrote a letter to the President's secretary of scheduling (no, not a Cabinet position!) pleading my case. Finally the phone call came - I would be traveling to the capital.

1976 was the first of 3 years where Ohio State couldn't even score a touchdown against my boys in blue. What a thrill to discuss the game with one of Michigan's former players, who had risen to the highest position in the world. What the photo doesn't show is the frosted blue eye shadow, and the frosted pink lipstick I was wearing. Man, I was hip!

Well, both presidents are gone now, and Michigan is taking much too long to rebuild its team. I'm not hip any more, but I confess to the frosted lipstick occasionally. I no longer crochet granny squares. I have my own rose garden, and haven't cooked a turkey in years. But every November I remember.


  1. Absolutely fascinating! Thanks for sharing the story, it is wonderful!

    Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. What a great photo to have in one's archives!

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