Betty Ford Center Mess Gets Messier

Power struggle at center has many alumni, donors fuming
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 10, 2011 1:00 AM CST
Updated Nov 12, 2011 11:23 AM CST
Former first lady Betty Ford smiles at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2000.   (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Anna Moore Butzner-File)
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(Newser) – The Betty Ford Center is supposed to be a place for healing, but a long-simmering feud for control of the famous rehab facility has boiled over in the months since the former first lady passed away, causing donors to cancel their contributions in big numbers, reports the Daily Beast. At the core, the battle is between John Schwarzlose, who has run the center since its founding in 1982, and Ford's family. Ford's daughter, Susan Ford Bales, had succeeded her mother as chairman of the board in 2005, but trouble started in 2009 when Bales grew troubled by what she saw as excessive salaries being earned by the center's leaders. A power struggle saw Schwarzlose take over the chairman position from Bales in 2010.

The fight broke into the open following Ford's funeral in July, when Schwarzlose sent an email complaining about his seat at the memorial service, "in the second row from the back." His "behavior has been self-serving, disloyal, and disrespectful,” said a Las Vegas developer who canceled his $150,000 pledge. Another alumnus of the center canceled a pledge of more than $1 million. As for Schwarzlose, he regrets sending the email, but says he is baffled that anyone would consider him disloyal. “We were joined at the hip for 25 years,” he said of his relationship with Ford. “I’m totally committed to her vision.”

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