The Monuments Men were a group of men and women from thirteen nations with expertise as museum directors, curators, art scholars and educators, artists, architects, and archivists. The Monuments Men job description was to save priceless works of art which had been part of Europe’s cultural heritage for generations.
The Americans joined with a team called the “American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments.” This team was headed by United States Supreme Court Justice Owen J. Roberts and was termed the ‘Roberts Commission.’ They specifically worked to identify and return works of art plundered by the Germans.
Lowell’s own member was Dale Vinton Ford, born in 1919 to Roye and Laura Andrews Ford. He attended the Bennett one room school and then Lowell High School, graduating in 1937. He developed a love for furniture design and graduated first in his class from Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids. Following his degree in architecture from the University of Michigan, Ford returned to Kendall as an instructor and assistant to the school’s President in 1940. By the time of his enlistment in 1942, he had risen to the post of Head of the Furniture Department at Kendall.
After his enlistment in September of 1942, he was commissioned as a Strategic Camouflage Officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in early 1943. He served primarily in North Africa but was also deployed to Brazil, Corsica, France, Germany and Austria. In Algiers, Ford was at the center of a 1943 counter-intelligence project designed to trick the Germans into believing the Allied landings would take place at Calais rather than Normandy. Ford’s architectural experience was essential to the detailed design and construction of the plot’s central stratagem.
The first restitution out of Heilbronn contained seventy-three cases of stained glass from Strasbourg Cathedral in France, which had been removed for safekeeping before the war and subsequently looted by the Nazis. Direct orders from General Dwight D. Eisenhower made the carefully orchestrated return of this important cultural treasure a first priority as a gesture of good faith between the United States and France. The five-truck convoy arranged to ferry the windows home departed Heilbronn in mid-September 1945. Upon the windows’ reinstallation, the people of Strasbourg celebrated in the streets, for their colorful treasures had returned home intact. Ford was cited by the Roberts Commission for his part in this return.
In addition, Lt Ford and his staff found the entire library of Heidelberg University, a gold eighteenth century communion cup from the middle Baden region, French art, masterpieces by Rubens and Cranach, a self-portrait by Rembrandt, and fourteenth and fifteenth century Madonnas.
Ford described this assignment as “the greatest lost and found operation the world has ever known, involving multi billions of dollars”.
Following this, in 1946, he was appointed Chief Monuments and Fine Arts Officer for Wurttenburg, Germany. He had the opportunity to teach the German authorities how the United States viewed German owned cultural objects. “It has never been our policy to look upon cultural and historical objects as prizes of war. We do not believe such actions are morally correct or acceptable. Our task is to correct the policy which has used objects of pure cultural nature as part of war indemnity.”
Later that year, while still in Germany he accepted the position of President of Kendall School of Design and returned home. Later he became Chief of Design for both the John Widdicomb Company and the William A. Berkeley Furniture Company. In 1963 he established his own furniture design and consultation business, Dale Ford Design Associates.
He continued serving his country and fellow veterans by working as design consultant with the United Veterans Council during the planning stages of the World War II Memorial in Veterans’ Memorial Park. He worked with Fred Ruppel in designing the eagle on the center pylon.
Not only did Dale Ford save the art of Europe, he worked to save art in his home state. He served on the Board of Trustees of the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Kent County Council of Historic Preservation and the Heritage Hill Association.
Because of all of his accomplishments, he was named a life-time honorary member of the Kendall School of Design Board of Directors and was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award by the school.
When he passed away in 1979, he was buried in the Alton Cemetery. The Dale V. Ford Memorial of Kendall School of Design was the recipient of many expressions of affection and respect.