KINDERHOOK — Eighth President Martin Van Buren, a Kinderhook native, was honored Wednesday on his 236th birthday during an annual ceremony at his gravesite in the Kinderhook Reformed Church Cemetery.
The event’s master of ceremonies, Kinderhook Mayor James Dunham, held a moment of silence for the late President George H.W. Bush, as his funeral procession was held Wednesday morning and early afternoon at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. His body will be flown to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church before a service on Thursday, according to plans released by the military.
Bush will then be taken by motorcade to the Union Pacific Railroad Westfield Auto Facility in Spring, Texas, and then by train to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, where he will be buried Thursday.
Bush will be interred alongside his wife, who died in April at 92, and his daughter Robin, who was 3 years old when she died in 1953 of leukemia.
Accomplishments of Bush’s tenure include sending American troops into Panama to overthrow the regime of Generla Manuel Noriega and sending 118,000 troops from allied nations to free Kuwait from Iraqi rule in what is known as Operation Desert Storm, according to the White House’s website.
Throughout Wednesday’s ceremony in Kinderhook, speakers noted comparisons between Van Buren and Bush.
Van Buren, who was born Dec. 5, 1782, served as the eighth president of the United States from 1837 to 1841. A founder of the Democratic Party, he previously served as the ninth state governor, the 10th U.S. secretary of state and the eighth vice president of the United States from 1833 to 1837 under President Andrew Jackson.
Van Buren and Bush were two of only four sitting vice presidents that were elected to the following presidential term as president, Dunham said, adding Van Buren was the last president to be elected in this fashion until Bush was elected to the presidency in 1988.
“This didn’t occur again until the 41st president [Bush],” Dunham said.
Bush served as the nation’s 43rd vice president under Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1989 and as president from 1989 to 1993. He was succeeded by Bill Clinton.
Various lawmakers in attendance Wednesday laid wreaths to honor Van Buren, including Brigadier Gen. John Andonie who did so on behalf of President Donald Trump. The White House honors former presidents on their birthday every year at their gravesites with a wreath.
Andonie shared tidbits about the eight president.
Van Buren was the first president to be born as a citizen of the United States — the only one whose first language wasn’t English, but Dutch, and is responsible for implementing government programs such as an independent treasury system and a 10-hour work day for federal employees, Andonie said.
Van Buren also coined the now commonly, and internationally, used phrase “OK.”
“It became popular during his 1836 presidential campaign,” Andonie said of the phrase. “Mr. President, we take the time today to remember you and all of your wonderful accomplishments.”
The ceremony was a moment to celebrate Van Buren’s life and also mourn the loss of Bush, who were both active in public life and national politics after their terms ended, Andonie said.
“It truly is a special day in that regard,” he added.
Van Buren and Bush had parallels in their political careers and were both well-liked, honest people, Friends of Lindenwald board member Jane Miller said after the ceremony. The group helped to organize the ceremony.
“I think that’s as good a legacy as being president is being a person who’s honest, forthright [and] stands up for what he believes in,” Miller said.
Boy Scout Charlie NaJaime completed a Star Scout project this year where he raised money to install a plaque on Van Buren’s grave that states his date of birth and death and identifies him as the nation’s eighth president.
“That was something very much needed — he did a great job on it,” Miller said. “I was very happy about it.”
Van Buren was a true product of Columbia County and after his presidency, he returned to Kinderhook where he became a conservationist and farmer — fitting in with many agricultural families of the era, Miller said.
“Back in the 19th century, probably 80, 90 percent of the families living in Columbia County farmed,” Miller said. “He’s really a wonderful model for farming and today, we see farming coming back to Columbia County.”
Van Buren is a good figure to represent Columbia County and Jerry Callahan, of Kinderhook, said he found the parallels between Bush and the eighth president fascinating.
“The parallels are more than coincidental,” Callahan said.
A highlight of the event for Patricia McKay, of Kinderhook, was seeing fourth-grade students from Ichabod Crane Elementary School read aloud important dates from Van Buren’s life, she said, adding having the children know their history is important.
“It makes you feel hopeful about democracy,” McKay said. “The children are the flowers of the community.”
The New York Times contributed to this report.
To reach reporter Daniel Zuckerman email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DZuckerman_CGM.