Baldwin — Former President Gerald R. Ford welcomed Soviet visitors, addressed current events and told a few golfing jokes for a standing-room-only audience this morning at Baker University.
"I wish to extend a very personal welcome to our Soviet visitors," he told about 10 Soviet participants in the citizens' Meeting for Peace in Lawrence, who were in the audience for his address at Baker's fall convocation.
"I have great admiration for your people and I appreciate the initiatives that Mr. Gorbachev has taken in your country. I hope your experience will be rewarding while you are in the United States."
More than 900 people filled Rice Auditorium beyond capacity for Ford's speech, which was followed by a brief question-and-answer session with members of the audience.
FORD ADDRESSED the current national budget crisis, events in the Middle East and today's students.
"This generation of young people are first-class," said Ford, who has spoken at 179 U.S. colleges and universities since leaving office in 1976.
"When the reins of government are in your hands, we will be well off," he said.
Ford said President Bush took appropriate action when he sent U.S. forces to the Middle East.
"If President Bush would have done nothing, I believe Saddam Hussein would have gone into Saudi Arabia, through the United Emirates and to Oman. He would have been a threat to the entire region," Ford said.
He also said the United States should be patient with the Middle East crisis.
"Because we are right, I think we will prevail without having to use the military," he said.
CONCERNING THE budget crisis, Ford said Congress should have accepted the bipartisan agreement reached by congressional leaders of both parties 10 days ago.
"I think it's of maximum importance that some action be taken," he said.
"Although we never had a perfect record, we did better than what they're doing today," said Ford, who also is a former House minority leader.
Ford also pleased the crowd with several jokes about his golfing partner, entertainer Bob Hope.
"He says I'm the only person who can play four golf courses at one time. He calls me the hitman of the PGA," Ford said.
Ford also received a round of applause during the question-and-answer session when he discussed how Congress operates today.
"WHEN I started in Congress we began our business in January and finished by June. The rest of the time we spent with the people in our districts," he said.
"That's what Congress ought to do today. It's bad when they spend all the time with the lobbyists and pressures, and not with all of you."
Ford, who first was elected to Congress in 1948, served 13 terms before he was appointed vice president in President Richard Nixon's administration, replacing Spiro Agnew. He was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States on Aug. 8, 1974, following Nixon's resignation. Ford left office after losing to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential race.
Gov. Mike Hayden, who spoke at Baker's fall convocation last year, introduced the former president.
After his speech, Ford received an honorary doctorate. He then held a brief news conference and attended a luncheon hosted by Lambert and his wife, Carolyn.
The Rev. Kenneth Hicks, resident bishop of the Kansas area of the United Methodist Church, gave the invocation before Ford's speech.
Ford's appearance at Baker was paid for by a contribution from an anonymous longtime friend of the university.
Former speakers at Baker's annual convocation include Vice President Dan Quayle, U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., and political columnist William F. Buckley.
Baker, which was founded in 1858, is affiliated with the Methodist church. It is the oldest four-year institution of higher education in Kansas and has an enrollment of 1,350 students.