Lena Meijer, wife of West Michigan retail giant, dies at 102

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Lena Meijer, the devoted wife and mother who was there every step of the way as her husband turned a small grocery store into a Midwestern staple, has died. She was 102 years old.

Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, announced his death on Twitter Saturday afternoon.

“Gabriella and I are saddened to share that our beloved grandmother Lena Meijer passed away today at the age of 102. We are grateful that she is at peace after a long, full and impactful life. “Grandma Lena was the warmest grandmother a grandson could ask for. Our family will forever cherish the memories and legacy she created with Grandpa Fred,” the tweet read.

In a statement, her son Hank Meijer, executive chairman of Meijer, said: “The blessings of a long and fruitful life outweigh the sorrow of the passing of our mother, Lena Meijer. Her gracious and generous spirit and devotion to her family, our business and our community were second to none and appreciated by many. She will be greatly missed.”

Lena Meijer has never sought the limelight and has rarely spoken in public – despite appearing at the 2018 grand opening of Meijer’s Bridge Street Market on the west side of Grand Rapids – but she was a true partner to her husband, Frederik Meijer, and left a lasting mark on the community.


Born Lena Rader on May 14, 1919, she worked hard on the small family farm just outside the Montcalm County community of Amble as she grew up, helping the family earn an income.

“We worked in the fields during the day planting maize by hand — we didn’t have a maize drill — planting potatoes by hand,” she recalled in an interview in May 2003. “We carried a sack of potatoes on our shoulders and he in the planters. We helped with the haymaking.

As a child, she and her siblings played in the corn cradle when it was empty.

“We asked our mother to keep all the packages and empty boxes and we set up a small grocery store in the corn nursery,” she said.

“She was 7 and she had her plans,” her husband joked.

Later in life, Meijer would fondly remember his mother’s large vegetable garden.

“I tried to make my garden as beautiful as his,” she said with a laugh.

She also excelled in sports and was one of the few girls the boys allowed to play baseball with them.

She graduated from Lakeview High School in 1937 and got a job at a Lakeview bank as a cashier and bookkeeper.


Then, one day, she received an unexpected phone call from Hendrik Meijer, who told her that some of his store employees knew Lena and had suggested that she hire her. It was at Meijer Thrift Market in Greenville that she met her husband, Fred Meijer, who ran the store alongside his father.

“Fred’s father hired me as a cashier in his store,” recalls Lena Meijer.

“On the phone, invisibly, choice of position”, launched her husband.

“He called on a Friday and said, ‘Can you be at work on Monday?’ And it was April Fool’s Day, ”continued Lena Meijer.

Fred Meijer told News 8 in 2003 that he was initially nervous about dating someone from the store, so it was Lena who made the first move.

“She invited me to a first dance. There was a group from the store going to Edmore and she was working in the office part-time and some of the girls were like, ‘You ask Fred,’ he said. “I turned them down at first, then changed my mind. I had a great time.”


Lena and Fred Meijer married in 1946. Their marriage has often been described as a true partnership. Lena Meijer was at her husband’s side when the Meijer company grew from a simple store to a retail giant.

Her involvement in the business continued until the birth of the first of their three sons, Hank, Doug and Mark, in 1952. She then devoted herself to their family.

“You don’t marry a person, especially when the business is there, you marry the business; you marry the family,” Fred Meijer said in 2003.

“They made their decisions about family obviously together…but they also made business decisions together,” former Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell said. “Lena was the constant presence alongside Fred.”

Feature — Portraits of Fred and Lena Meijer hang in Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

Lena Meijer rarely spoke in public, instead leaving her more outgoing husband to accept the honors of the couple. It was something he often joked about.

“By the way, if this speech gets too long, half belongs to Lena because she won’t speak,” he said in 2004 at the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center groundbreaking ceremony at Spectrum Health. in downtown Grand Rapids. “She’s not that shy at home. If you time it, cut half for its half.


Although among the wealthiest people in the country, the Meijers lived modestly and gave generously to countless organizations and projects in the community, including the Grand Rapids Civic Theater in 2006.

They also contributed to the medical industry in Grand Rapids. Four years after the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center open, the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion opened at Spectrum, named after two former Meijer employees and funded in part by the Meijers.

One of Lena Meijer’s greatest legacies could be Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. The gardens, which opened in 1995, feature rare and exotic plants and outdoor walkways leading to sculptures by renowned artists.

Visitors can also see the Kindergarten Lena Meijer and one replica of his family farm in Amble, with a barn and the original farmhouse windmill. As a child, she says, she used to climb this windmill and eat lunch there.

  • Kindergarten Lena Meijer
  • Kindergarten Lena Meijer

Gardens have always been special to her and she was proud of how the project developed.

“It blows my mind every time I come here how big we’ve grown,” she once said.

She was predeceased by her husband, who died in November 2011 at the age of 91. She is survived by her three sons, who help run the family business, and several grandchildren.

A private family ceremony is planned.

On the website Remembering Lena Meijer, the Meijer family said they wanted to “thank everyone who helped with Lena’s care at home, with her transportation and with other helpers.”

In lieu of flowers, the website states that memorial contributions in Lena’s name can be made at Kindergarten Lena Meijer at the Frederik Meijer Gardens.

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