Milton E. Ford, professor of liberal studies at Grand Valley and founding director of the university’s LGBT Resource Center, died March 19 after a long battle with cancer. He was 72.
Ford joined Grand Valley’s faculty in 1973 and celebrated receiving his 40-year service award in December. A compassionate teacher and lifelong researcher, Ford will best be remembered for leading efforts to integrate the LGBT community with university academics and its student life.
The LGBT Resource Center opened its doors in the Kirkhof Center in 2008. At the time, Ford said the office space represented important progress for the university to recognize “there is an obvious need for students to feel comfortable and that everyone should be treated equally.”
Colette Seguin Beighley, current director of the center, said Ford felt establishing the center was his most meaningful work. “He wanted a place where students could come and feel safe,” Seguin Beighley said. “He wanted a place where queer students could call their own. Milt cared deeply for each student, and his celebration of students’ identities was liberating for them.”
Last fall, the campus celebrated establishment of the LGBTQ Studies minor, which is housed in Women and Gender Studies. WGS director Kathleen Underwood said Ford was a key player in starting the conversation to create a minor and design its courses.
“He brought several years of teaching LBGTQ courses and WGS courses,” Underwood said. “He also was very influential with the larger final plan committee, able to diffuse dissent and keep us on task — always with a smile and that twinkle in his eye.”
Provost Gayle R. Davis called Ford her hero. “His contributions to Grand Valley were enormous, and his personal characteristics and values rare,” she said.
Wendy Burns-Ardolino, chair of Liberal Studies, said she enjoyed watching Ford work with students and faculty members. “He never rested on his laurels, and never allowed what had been his experience to limit his capacity for discovery,” Burns-Ardolino said. “He was an excellent listener to students and colleagues, and would go on a journey of discovery along with his students.”
Ford will be the recipient of this year’s Fierce Award, to be presented posthumously during the April 16 Lavender Graduation, another longstanding university tradition that he helped establish. Now in its eighth year, the annual event recognizes the personal and academic achievements of LGBT students and allies.
Ford served as faculty advisor to Out N About, Grand Valley’s gay/straight student alliance, and as a trainer for Allies and Advocates. He earned a doctoral degree in English from Oklahoma State University, and a master’s of divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Ford, author of three books, recently helped write a chapter for a book, “Expanding the Circle: Creating an Inclusive Environment in Higher Education for LGBTQ Students and Studies,” which will be published this fall by SUNY Press.
Ford is survived by his partner, Gary Van Harn; a son, David Ford; daughter-in-law, Lisa; grandsons, Miles and Louis; sister, Ruth Bowman; and brother, Robert Ford.
Details about a memorial service will be announced later.
People wishing to send donations in Ford’s name are asked to remember the LGBT Resource Center’s Endowment Fund. Click here for more information.