DECATUR — To be an effective leader, a person must have integrity and character, Steve Ford, son of former President Gerald Ford told a room of local leaders. These are lessons Ford gained himself from his father.

“Character is what you do when no one is watching,” Ford said.

More than 500 people attended the Community Leaders Breakfast held Thursday at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel. The biannual event was hosted by the Herald & Review and supported by Tate & Lyle.

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Keynote Speaker Steve Ford addresses attendees during the Community Leaders Breakfast at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel Thursday morning.

The gathering is intended to instill lessons local leaders can take with them for the betterment of the community.

Herald & Review General Manager Joel Fletcher, the master of ceremonies, said Ford had a “unique perspective on life.”

He also described Ford as “already falling in love with our community.” Ford spent a few days in town visiting downtown, Lake Decatur and some of the historical buildings, Fletcher said.

Ford visited Decatur before, when he was campaigning for his Republican father during the 1976 election, eventually won by Democrat Jimmy Carter.

“I had hair back then,” he said.

Since then, Ford worked as an actor, appearing in such TV shows and movies "Young and the Restless," "When Harry Met Sally" and "Transformers."

Ford spoke about his time in the White House and shared photographs and memories of a time when the nation was just getting out of Vietnam and having endured the resignation of President Richard Nixon following the Watergate scandal.

While Steve Ford said his father’s legacy likely is the pardoning Nixon, he said he wants people to remember his father's other contributions. He said he helped wrap up the nation's involvement in Vietnam, dealt with the Cold War and helped restore faith in the American economy.

Steve Ford said his father knew that he might not be elected in his own right as president, if he pardoned Nixon. But he also knew the country needed to be healed and to move forward, so he made the selfless decision for the future of America to forgive and look to the future, Steve Ford said.

It may not have been the best decision personally, but it was a decision that was good for the majority of the American people, Steve Ford said. It’s a lesson, he said, others should follow. 

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Decatur Park District executive director Bill Clevenger speaks about park projects and programs during the Community Leaders Breakfast at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel Thursday morning.

The speakers who followed brought home that message of community, doing what they hope can help the most people.

Bill Clevenger, the director of the Decatur Park District, talked about improvements to the parks, including the Red Barn restaurant opening at the Decatur Airport.

He said the Red Barn is “pretty neat for Decatur. And why shouldn’t Decatur be neat?”

The park district helps to attract the best and brightest, Clevenger said, because it gives them something to do before and after work. They can swim, hike, bike, run and golf, he said.

“We’ve been making memories for people in our community for 93 years,” he said. “We not only contribute to the quality of life but to health.”

The park district postponed the construction of a water park at Nelson Park on Wednesday, when bids came in to high for the $9.2 million plan, Clevenger said. The water park is now expected to open in 2019 after a three-phase project.

"We did the right thing," he said. "We had to make a decision."

One of the community's biggest projects every year is the WSOY Community Food Drive.

Brian Byers spoke to the leaders audience about the food drive, which is 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday in the Airport Plaza Kroger. He encouraged everyone at the breakfast and in the community to donate either money or canned goods.

He said at the community breakfast that donors can remain anonymous, but “if you want to be acknowledged, we will acknowledge you.”

The community has been giving to many charities to help other cities suffering through tragedies, such as the hurricanes that struck Texas and Florida, Byers said, but he hopes people can continue to donate to help the local community as well.

The goal is 1.5 million pounds/dollars of food. The first part the Howard G. Buffet Foundation will match up to $100,000. Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Tate & Lyle have also been generous, Byers said.

“But then, the money has to come in $5, $10, $20 increments,” he said. “Every, every penny counts," he said.

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