KINDERHOOK, N.Y. – Air Force Major General Timothy LaBarge, the commander of the New York Air National Guard, marked the 237th birthday of President Martin Van Buren, the man who gave the term 'OK' to the English language, during a short ceremony in Kinderhook, N.Y. on Thursday, Dec. 5.
LaBarge, and New York Air National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Maureen Dooley, placed a wreath from President Donald Trump at Van Buren's grave in the Kinderhook Cemetery to commemorate his birth.
A wreath from the sitting president is traditionally placed at the gravesites of former presidents on the anniversary of their birth. Placing the wreath at Van Buren's grave in Kinderhook Cemetery is the responsibility of the New York National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters.
Van Buren, born in 1782, was the first president who was not born a British subject. He was born in Kinderhook and died in Kinderhook in 1862.
During his service as New York governor and president, Van Buren was nicknamed "Old Kinderhook." Reportedly Van Buren would put the initials "OK" for Old Kinderhook on papers that he had read and approved.
"He was not a founding father, but he was one of the people who put our country on the path to greatness," LaBarge said about Van Buren.
Van Buren played a role in the American experiment in equality and self-government work, LaBarge said.
Eighteen Airmen from the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing joined Dooley and LaBarge in honoring Van Buren. The 109th Airmen included a color guard, bugler, and a 12-Airman Honor Cordon.
An audience of about 40 people braved the windy, cold weather and huddled together in an area in front of the Van Buren memorial, shoveled clear of the foot-deep snowfall.
The placing of the White House wreath capped a ceremony that included remarks from local officials and the laying of many wreaths. The Town of Kinderhook, Villages of Valatie and Kinderhook, Kinderhook Garden Club, National Park Service, which oversees the Martin Van Buren Historic Site at Lindenwald, the name of Van Buren's home; and the Friends of Lindenwald; which provides assistance to the historic site, all presented wreaths as well.
The event also included a presentation from fourth-grade students from Ichabod Crane Middle School in nearby Valatie, N.Y. The students took turns narrating the story of Van Buren's life.
"There's nothing harder than to follow a group of well-read and articulate fourth-graders," LaBarge joked. "They stole all my thunder."
Van Buren, who served in the White House from 1837 to 1841, grew up speaking Dutch at home. He became a lawyer and then entered New York politics.
When he was young, he was nicknamed the Red Fox of Kinderhook because of his red hair and political acumen. He served as New York's governor, then as secretary of state and as vice president, and played a vital role in the creation of the Democratic Party.
After two unsuccessful runs for president after his only term as president—once as the standard-bearer for the anti-slavery Free Soil Party, he retired to his Lindenwald estate outside Kinderhook and died there at age 79, July 24, 1862.