Fred and Lena Meijer
Fred Meijer was born in 1919 and began working in his father’s grocery store at the age of fourteen. After high school, Fred joined his father fulltime in the business. In 1946, Fred married Lena Rader whose parents were farmers. She also worked in the grocery store as a clerk. Meijer, Inc. grew into a multi-state supermarket chain, and Fred and Lena became major philanthropists in Grand Rapids, Michigan, especially toward medical institutions and nature preserves.
Hendrik and Gezina Meijer, both Dutch immigrants, married in Greenville, Michigan, in 1912. They had two children, Johanna and Fred. Hendrik was originally a barber and then opened a grocery store in 1934. Fred began working in the store from the its beginning when he was fourteen years old. Fred graduated from high school in 1937 and then worked fulltime. Gezina worked in the store, later serving as president and honorary chairperson of the board. They opened their second store in Cedar Springs in 1942. In 1946, Fred married Lena Rader who was a cashier in the store. Lena was the daughter of a farmer near Lakeview, Michigan. Lena worked for the store for ten years. Fred and Lena had three sons—Hank, Doug, and Mark. In 1949, the first Grand Rapids store opened. Today Meijer operates nearly 200 stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. Stores feature about 40 departments and often offer gasoline, banking services, and in-store restaurants.
The owners of a major supermarket chain, Fred and Lena made significant contributions to the community through the business and through their philanthropy. Their philanthropic gifts include Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, the Meijer Heart Center, the Meijer Trails Network, the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Center, and the Meijer Majestic Theatre.
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
Fred and Lena volunteered their time and money toward a number of community organizations, including the Urban League, the American Cancer Society, Goodwill Industries, Butterworth Hospital, the American Red Cross, the Center for Health Professions at Grand Valley State University, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, and the United Way. It was through a gift of the Meijers that made it possible for the Ford Museum to obtain a section of the Berlin Wall and the stairs from the U.S. Embassy building in Saigon.
Frederik Meijer Gardens opened April 1995 and continues to expand. Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park features indoor and outdoor gardens, nature trails, an outdoor sculpture park that includes a 21-foot tall bronze horse originally designed by Leonardo DaVinci, an amphitheatre that attracts world renown musicians, a children’s section named for Lena, and a replica of Lena’s childhood farmstead.
The Meijers enabled the development of hiking and biking trails in Greenville and several other Michigan communities. The Fred Meijer Trails Network today traverses ten counties in West Michigan and continues to develop.
The nine-story Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center opened in November of 2004. The Meijers were the lead donors in the Civic Theatre renovation that began in 2005. The theatre was renamed the Meijer Majestic Theatre and reopened in 2006.
To honor the service and community stewardship of friends and business associates Harvey Lemmen and Earl and Donnalee Holton, Fred and Lena Meijer gave the lead gift toward the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilian dedicated in 2008.
Key Related Ideas
Fred Meijer’s father, a Dutch immigrant, started a small grocery store that grew into a supermarket chain. Both Fred and Lena, whose parents were farmers, worked in the original store as young people. Fred continued with the company as it grew. The success of Meijer allowed Fred and Lena to become major philanthropists in West Michigan.
Important People Related to the Topic
- Harvey Lemmen and Earl Holton: Both chief executives at Meijer, Fred credited both men for helping to build the business and considered them friends.
- Hendrik and Gezina Meijer: Fred’s parents were both Dutch immigrants. They settled in Greenville where Hendrik opened a grocery store. As Meijer Inc. grew, both Hendrik and Gezina filled executive roles.
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park: The mission of Meijer Gardens () is to promote the enjoyment, understanding, and appreciation of gardens, sculpture, the natural environment, and the arts. https://www.meijergardens.org/
- Grand Action is a non-profit organization that identifies and supports downtown building and revitalization projects, including the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place convention center, Grand Rapids Civic Theater, Michigan State University Medical School, and others. https://www.grandaction.org/ See the excellent video on the renovation of the Civic Theatre.
- Grand Rapids Public Museum: The Public Museum is a collections-based educational organization that explores and celebrates the world and our place in it. It seeks to educate and delight the public, contribute to the well-being of its community, and enhance the quality of life in West Michigan. https://www.grpm.org/
- Grand Valley State University: Grand Valley offers a strong liberal education, fostering critical thinking, creative problem solving, and cultural understanding. The mission is to educate students to shape their lives, their professions, and their societies. The university website is at http://www.gvsu.edu/
- The Meijer Majestic Theatre is one of the oldest and largest community theatres in the country. https://www.grct.org/
- Spectrum Health: Use the Search feature to find the Meijer Heart Center as well as the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Center https://www.spectrumhealth.org
- Department of Natural Resources: Includes details about the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/Details.aspx?id=508&type=SPRK
- Meijer Inc.: Read news and information about the Meijer company at www.meijer.com
Bibliography and Internet Sources
- Becherer, Joseph Antenucci. Gardens of Art : the Sculpture Park at the Frederik Meijer Garden. Grand Rapids: Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, 2002. ISBN: 0971203415
- Holton, Earl. Learning to Lead: My Life and Meijer. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1999. ISBN: 0802846033
- Maine, Donald. Maine Street: A Tribute to 27 West Michigan Entrepreneurs. Boston MA: Pearson Custom, 2002. ISBN-13: 9780536679918.
- Meijer, Fredrik. Fred Meijer, in His Own Words. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1995. ISBN: 0802879004
- Meijer, Fredrik. Just Call Me Fred: 101 Thoughts on People, Business and Life in General. Grand Rapids: Meijer, Inc., 1998.
- Meijer, Hendrik G. Thrifty years: the Life of Hendrik Meijer. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1984. ISBN: 0802800386
- Rosas, Alan. Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park: Growing a Masterpiece. Grand Rapids: Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, 2005. ISBN: 0971203458
- Smith, Bill. Fred Meijer: Stories of His Life. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub Co., 2009. ISBN-13: 9780802864604
Clipping file and oral history in the SOUL of Philanthropy collection in the Grand Rapids History and Special Collections of the Grand Rapids Public Library