A private funeral takes place later today in Michigan for former President Gerald Ford. Thousands of people have been filing past Ford's flag-draped casket at his presidential library museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Here's Michigan Radio's Kaomi Goetz.

KAOMI GOETZ: Grand Rapids is a town that shaped President Ford's formative years. He went on to represent this area in Congress for a quarter century. In recent years, the former president lived in Colorado and California, but he never forgot the place he called home. On his 90th birthday three years ago, Mr. Ford returned to Grand Rapids for a community-wide celebration. He said his feelings for Grand Rapids run deep.

President GERALD FORD: There is something important about the character of the people of Western Michigan and Grand Rapids, and Betty and I, we hope, represent that character that's important to a community, to a marriage and to your day-to-day living.

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GOETZ: Mr. Ford's casket was carried across the tarmac into the biting Michigan winter air at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport yesterday. About 200 friends joined the University of Michigan Marching Band to welcome the former Michigan football star with a rousing “Hail To The Chief” and the school's fight song.

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GOETZ: As the motorcade carrying Mrs. Ford and other family members left the airport, thousands of people lined both sides of the route to pay their last respects. Parents brought their children, some held their hands over their hearts, others wiped away tears.

In Grand Rapids, the street leading up to the Ford Presidential Museum were thick with crowds. Archie Rowe(ph) of Otsego, Michigan, was one of about 400 Eagle Scouts that Mrs. Ford invited to line the museum's entryway. Rowe says he wasn't surprised at the turn out.

Mr. ARCHIE ROWE: He touched a lot of people's lives, and a lot of people are here to pay their respects.

GOETZ: A makeshift memorial of flowers, welcome signs and candles, and even a football, reflected the outpouring of respect for Mr. Ford as a statesman, an athlete and a president. Helane Romney(ph) of Grand Rapids came to bid her farewell. She says she always admired Mr. Ford for his down-home qualities.

Ms. HELANE ROMNEY: He didn't put on airs and strut around, you know, like some big shot. And he was always - he always kept that same attitude, even when he became president.

GOETZ: Jim Trimp(ph) played high school football with Gerald Ford, and they often met to commemorate their athletic triumphs. Trimp says even then he saw leadership qualities.

Mr. JIM TRIMP: He wasn't a guy that got excited or anything. He was real cool. You know what I mean? And he could handle any situation, I don't care what it was.

GOETZ: A private funeral for the former president will be held here this afternoon in the church where he and Betty Ford were married. His remains will be interred at the Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids.

For NPR News, I'm Kaomi Goetz.

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