KINDERHOOK, N.Y. - The New York Air National Guard marked the 240th birthday of President Martin Van Buren, the first president not born a British subject, in his rural hometown Dec. 5.
Air Force Brig. General Denise Donnell, the commander of the New York Air National Guard, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Jeffery Trottier laid a wreath from President Joe Biden at Van Buren’s grave in Kinderhook Reformed Church Cemetery to mark the event.
Airmen from the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia provided the honor cordon and color guard.
Since 1967, military officers have laid wreaths from the current occupant of the White House at the graves of former presidents on their birthdays.
The New York National Guard’s headquarters handles the honor for Van Buren and Chester Arthur, buried outside Albany. The Air Guard’s 107th Attack Wing does the honors for Millard Fillmore in Buffalo.
Van Buren was the eighth president, serving from 1837 to 1841. He retired to Kinderhook and died in 1862.
“It is great to see so many people here on this cold yet sunny day,” Donnell told the audience of 75 people. “It’s a privilege to be here today representing President Biden.”
The Kinderhook ceremony is a communitywide event, said Kinderhook Village Mayor Mike Abrams.
Along with the wreath from the president, wreaths were presented from the town and village of Kinderhook, the garden club, the nearby village of Valatie, the National Park Service, which maintains Van Buren’s home as a historic site, and a local group that supports the Park Service.
Fourth graders from the local elementary school recited the details of Van Buren’s life.
Martin Van Buren was proud to be from Kinderhook and happy to describe himself as “a farmer in my native town,” National Park Service Ranger Dawn Olsen told the audience.
He would still feel at home here today, once he got over automobiles and traffic lights, Olsen said. He would fit right in talking to people at the farmers market, she said.
Van Buren grew up in Kinderhook speaking Dutch at home. He was a lawyer who served as a judge and then as a New York state senator before being elected governor.
He was considered a political genius who turned the Democratic Party into a national party.
He served as secretary of state and vice president for President Andrew Jackson before running for president himself in 1836.
He took one of his nicknames, “Old Kinderhook,” from his hometown. During his campaign “OK Clubs” were created to promote his candidacy.
Van Buren reportedly would scrawl the initials of his nickname “OK” on documents he approved, giving the world the term OK.