It's been nearly 31 years since local photographer Dale Dowers received a phone call in the middle of the night from someone asking if he wanted to photograph then-president Gerald Ford.
"I thought he was kidding," Dowers, 77, said.
The request was no joke.
Dowers found himself a few hours later at the Redwood Inn in Rantoul waiting with a camera.
It was March 6, 1976. Ford was visiting East Central Illinois and scheduled a stop at a reception at the Redwood Inn. Dowers was hired privately to do the job. It paid about $2,400.
"They bought all of my photos," Dowers said.
Dowers said he was advised by the Secret Service not to rush toward Ford's motorcade and to make no sudden movements. He never spoke to Ford while he was there.
"They told me to stand still and don't go run towards the car," Dowers said.
Dowers said he worked from about 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and started printing his photos that night.
The photos hang in Dowers' house; the negatives have been lost.
Ford died on Dec. 26.
"I was really impressed because not many people get to photograph a president," said neighbor Jane Brown as she viewed the framed shots Dowers took of Ford. "I think it's a good photo of him."
The Ford job was his only brush with a president.
Up until 1998, Dowers ran his own photography studio, taking an average of 700 school portraits a year as well as photographing school events and weddings and other commercial work.
"I had something going all the time," Dowers said.
He took up photography as a hobby while stationed in San Francisco when he was in the Coast Guard.
"At a certain point, you jump into it or you get out," Dowers said of the photography profession.
He jumped into it. After working seven years with another photographer, Dowers launched out on his own, developing film in his house.
"My wife went to work and I took over the bathroom," he said.
Photographing a president was an interesting job, but it did not top any other Dowers had.
The jobs, he said, "were all highlights as far as I'm concerned. I've enjoyed it."