Friday, November 30, 2012

Tribute to SPC Zachary A. Shanafelt

SPC Zachary A. Shanafelt served his country gallantly until he passed away November 21, 2012 at Walter Reed Medical Center and was part of the Wounded Warrior program.  Zach was involved in an accident more than a year ago in Afghanistan.  He was a certified combat medic with the Attack Battery 1-84th Field Artillery at Combat Outpost Qaisar in the Fariyab Province   Not all soldiers are killed or injured in battle.  Not Zach. The injuries he received were from an accident he encountered in Afghanistan.

I never knew the Zachary directly, but indirectly.  We crossed paths briefly for about an hour in 2006 when his Creston High School 11th grade class came to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan for a Biome tour.  Zach and his other ROTC friend stayed at the back of a group 12 other students, but it was easy to see Zach was different.  He stood tall and although some students acted bored he never did.  He listened intently on the subject matter.  When I asked a question he snapped to attention.  At the conclusion of the tour I noted some of his classmates derided on being an  ROTC fanatic, but I saw a very personable young man who was destined for greatness beyond himself.  He was proud and comfortable of who he was in his own skin.  He had a destined "goal" in life.  His father and mentors inspired him greatly.

Here was a high school student who knew what he wanted in life; he had a lofty goal to be proud of his heritage and serve the America which he loved dearly.  Yes he was on the fast track and served his country honorably and bravely putting other people above himself.  Fast tracks in military life pose  even greater risk to body and mind, but Zach wasn't shy.  He knew what he wanted to do from high school onward early in life.  His mind was positively charged and his body was preparing for the adventure of his life when he visited FMG.  He was securing his destiny.

Many times after tours I ask the students about their future plans and 11th graders these days pretty much don't answer questions.  They stand like silent zombies afraid to answer lest they answer incorrectly, but Zach and friend weren't afraid to answer and learned to laugh at themselves. Zach had a sense of learning humor, too and was not afraid of the older docent (me) teaching him how to survive in other countries.  He displayed a take charge mentality.  Some said, "He was a dreamer who did what others classified as impossible," but he had the gift to inspire others to dream and make dreams come true.  To family and friends they saw a young military man speeding through life like a blazing comet. After snatching his fiery star dust trail; he took them on a wild journey to experience life through his eyes.  Zach never looked back; only forward pressing on and became a shining star to many children.

Zach made lots of small friends in Afghanistan and fell in love with the children always requesting gifts from American children and passing them out to children.  He energized others to reach out and touch lives for the sake of humanity; put self last.  He simply loved life and put the hope and dreams of others above himself.  Today was Zach's funeral at Pederson Funeral Home in Rockford, Michigan at 11 a.m. Prior to bringing his casket out, the bagpiper stood on the cold front porch and played Amazing Grace.  TV media were there across the street.  Military family saluted.  His casket was placed on the cradle in the middle of N. Monroe St. The family was seated on chairs and from the south marching north up the east side sidewalk came 700+ proud children who walked 1.5 miles from Valley View Elementary School in a procession a half-mile long to pay tribute to SPC Zachary as part their Patriot's Week Program.  They proudly stood in the cold waving small flags.  They made Rockford proud; to give of themselves to honor Zach and his family for his sacrifice to America and the freedoms adults sometimes take for granted.  Many eyes misted and teardrops fell paying honor to a young soldier who loved helping children in a far away place.   Never stop dreaming.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Most Beautiful Dancer in My World-3

Frederick Austerlitz arrived in Hollywood as a young dancer, but if you are age 50+ the stage and film dancer was Fred Astaire.  Astaire arrived in time for a usual screen test.  He passed inspection, but the verdict; "Can't act. Slightly bald. Can dance a little."  Someone saw great promise in Fred  and gave Astaire a chance to achieve such remarkable success that he became the "world's greatest dancer," said Balanchine and Nureyev.  Fred partnered with the talented and beautiful dancer named Ginger Rogers.  Together they produced a series of films that charmed the world with their dancing skills.  Both seemed to float on air as they danced across the stage.   Astaire played many roles as an elegant playboy destined to dance with Ms. Rogers.

Phyllis Astaire, the wife of Fred Astaire had a speech impediment.  As an adult she had a little problem saying her r's.  One day actor David Niven took Phyllis Astaire down to RKO to watch the filming segment of a "Cheek to Cheek," number musical for Top Hat, starring Fred and his partner Ginger Rogers.  Ginger did her first take in a dress composed almost entirely of red feathers.  "She looks like a wooster," giggled Phyllis."

Seems the dress was ready only just in time for the dance.  "Slowly, one at a time at first, the feathers parted company with the original garment.  As Fred whirled Ginger faster and faster around the gleaming set, more and more feathers flew off.  It reminded Phyllis and Niven of a broken pillow fight at school, but both dancers pressed bravely on with the musical number and by the end Ginger  looked ... well she or the stork never had seen something so beautiful.  Phyllis seeing the clothing malfunction pulled Niven's sleeve and said, 'Let's get out of here' "Fwed will be so embawassed."

I doubt Fred Astaire was embarrassed.  His eyes knew that Ginger Rogers could help them both achieve or elevate their dancing prowess.  A good woman helps men achieve greatness.  Sure sometimes things don't go as planned, but with a little help from talented beautiful women men soar.  I guess Phyllis couldn't watch Fred undress Ginger on stage. His dance number with her uncovered more of her than what the stork saw at birth and it did delight his eyes and they danced into film history.  God bless the woman who is attractive and active in life.  Just be careful who you dance with in the presence of your wife for her eyes throw blazing swords when she gets you alone.

I guess what you must remember about dancing is the most beautiful woman, if married is your wife, but when not with her the most beautiful woman dancers are those who seek and ask us to dance with them.  No longer will I refuse to dance with any woman who asks.  I'll no longer sit and refuse to dance.  Each week I saw too many guys, and I was one of them,  refuse to dance with the ladies; mates, friends or complete strangers.  Sure I made other guys [frogs] jealous last week, but I made a beautiful wild woman dancer happy dancing with an old karaoke singer and she changed my perspective of dancing with someone that is not my wife.  If asked I'll say "I dance a little," but I won't sit with the rest of the frogs.  I felt like a 'prince' dancing with the Most Beautiful Woman Dancer in My World.  It's dancers who keep and make life better.

As Red Green of  PBS Canada fame would say, "I am a man.  I can change if I have to I guess."    

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Most Beautiful Woman Dancer in My World-2

My brother-in-law once commented that no man living man should have a wife more than 30 years.  He felt like a prisoner.  The wow factor in his marriage had stopped.  His wife refuses to do things with him and he's lonely.  Rarely does his wife stir from the couch potato position.  She stopped exercising, but sits eating and watching TV 24/7.  She is disinterested in his life and that makes him feel lonely and worthless. He feels trapped in his second marriage.  The "wow factor" is gone.

I love my wife and best friend dearly, but she dislikes the spotlight on her when I sing karaoke songs.  She dislikes late night hours, dark venues complaining she can't see her food and the music is too loud.  She too sits in front of the TV letting it entertain her robbing us of companionship.  My new friends can't understand her reasoning for not keeping the "wow factor" visible in our 39 year marriage.  Lately I feel like its a convenience factor.  Yes I've made new friends, but I'd rather have her by my side.  Her refusal to be part of my singing life is driving a wedge between us.  I enjoy the freedom to explore other karaoke venues, but my loneliness robs us of togetherness.

On the other hand I can understand why she might resent the fact that other women find me handsome and charming.  She doesn't want to see other women, some of which are very slender beautiful dancers and singers give affection to me in real time.  She has a "jealous factor" like Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo) and  I know my wife couldn't handle seeing the affection I receive from other wild sometime provocative young women who put the wow factor back in my life with hugs and kisses. Whispering how much they appreciate me in my old ear makes my lonely life worth living instead of turning me into a retired couch potato like her while waiting for God.  Isn't it any wonder why men turn attention to younger women; not that I am attracted to any.  I should feel excited, but I don't.  It's just I'm not ready give up my young at heart feelings and die from boredom. 

Although I didn't resist the most beautiful woman dancer to ever get me off my bar chair she did make an impression on me.  The thrill experience isn't dead.  I felt alive and not dead like the other guys that resisted her attempts to get them to dance with her.  As a writer I'll describe her visually.   She had a fair complexion, but not pale, long below the shoulder black straight hair, rather tall; taller than myself with the physique of a speed skater - long powerful upper legs, slender waist and to complete the picture of her upper torso she was the 10+ that others guys said, "She's the hottest woman in the bar."  I made them jealous?  That made me feel better.  I had never danced with another woman except my wife.  What turns you off or on?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Rebel Woodpecker - 153

I've always enjoyed woodpeckers, but not when I had excruciating headaches, but a Northern Flickers life is all about using their slightly curved bills to excavate dead wood or partially rotting wood for a nest site. Sometimes they just like to beat the snot our of hollow metal objects; like mail boxes. Sometimes I think it's just to annoy humans. Each year once both sexes meet they start excavating a new hole preferably someplace in the same nesting tree. Choice home sites include hollow tree stumps and branches, or old weathered fence posts in pasture fields, utility poles or behind the damaged
sidings of buildings. It's wherever they can roost from 2-60 feet above the ground. If threatened by man or predator they will protect their young.

After the nest cavity is hollowed out the female lays from 7-9 pure white, smooth, oval to short oval eggs. Both sexes over the next 11-12 days will incubate the eggs and rotate incubation between themselves every hour. The male incubates the eggs at night while the female rests at a nearby resting perch or preening spot. After the eggs hatch the male takes great care in incubating the brood. Once the young arrive both sexes are nonvocal to each other and the woods return to silence. This is a survival tactic to keep hawks and owls from finding the nestlings. Birds watch each other especially cow birds.

Believe it or not, ornithologists studying the reproductive systems of flickers have discovered that if one egg is removed from the nest each day, the female will lay another egg within 24 hours. She knows how many eggs she laid. Studies show that by removing one egg per day, leaving one egg as a "nest egg," 71 eggs were removed from 1 flicker nest in 73 days. The female only missed 2 days in egg production over the course of 2 months of laying additional 71 eggs. Flickers have the uncanny ability to lay the correct number of eggs that will permit them to produce the maximum number of offspring. Flickers will produce as many surviving young as possible to replace those lost to forces of Mother Nature and man. If a cowbird finds the nest and deposits one of her own in the nest with the other eggs, the woodpeckers will abandon the entire clutch and relay another set of eggs up to nine times. Flickers know the differences in eggs.

Unlike other members of the woodpecker family, the Northern Flicker is known as the "rebel woodpecker," because it does most of its foraging for food on the ground as opposed to pecking insects from behind tree bark. It is a migratory bird to Michigan from Canada and they begin migrating north as the earth warms and ants come to the surface. They begin moving as the snow and ice recede towards the north. Spring, summer and fall diets consist of more than 50% ants. They follow the progression of ants north like geese following the receding snows of winter.

Flickers will sit on the ground below bird feeders and occasionally hang on them, but only sort the seeds. They do swipe a sunflower seed, but prefer looking for ants to eat. Flickers come to feeders looking for cracked corn from April to June, not for the corn, but the ants it attracts. Ants love the sugar properties of corn. They love suet, peanut butter seed cakes in the winter and forage on insects killed by summer bug zappers. Catch the dead bugs and watch the flickers sort them. From mid-summer to fall they feed heavily on wild berries, nuts and seeds.

What also makes flickers rebels is the fact that they have long, smooth, sticky tongues instead of the barbed tongues like other woodpeckers. Flicker tongues are so sticky that ants quickly adhere to it and they love little fire ants in those big ant hill mounds in open fields. These birds do a war dance atop those two to three foot diameter ant hills using their feet and bills to stir up the ants inside. When the crawling nasties storm out to defend their home the flicker slurps them them up faster than an Aardvark. Flickers make craters in the tops of those ant hills when probing for ants, which are used for trapping more ants, too.

That African aardvark on the Pink Panther cartoon show always made me laugh when I saw his long probing nose with a flared nostril sucking up ants with mega sounds of a powerful vacuum cleaner. Aardvarks like flickers really use their long sticky tongues for slurping up ants and termites.

Flickers regurgitate food to their young unlike their cousins who feed their young with sticky sap-well dunked insects. During early morning hours the young are fed about every ten minutes, but after noon are fed only once an hour. Both sexes take turns feeding the young continually for three weeks.

Once the young birds start sticking their heads out of the nest hole, they will leave the nest and fly within seven days. Leaving the nest they are strong fliers, but will remain with the parents for two-three more weeks. The young are still dependent on their parents for food and protection, but by the end of that three week period they will be able to take care of themselves. Once the young leave the adult flickers they will go through one complete molt. The plumage colors change from late July through September, but time lapsed depends on when the young left the family group.

You will always know when spring arrives in the bird world when you see Northern Flickers slurping up ants or seeing them stomping the ground. "Shall we, dance" takes on a new meaning when you watch Northern Flickers eating.

Watch for more exciting tales about nature from my naturalist travels.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Rebel Woodpecker - 152

John Burroughs (1837-1921) and John Muir (1838-1914) were two of the most popular and successful American nature writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During their lives and writings both approached the subject of nature differently. Muir spent much of his adult life exploring the rugged mountain wilderness areas of California and Alaska. John Burroughs spent most of his entire life (84 yrs.) living on a small New York farm that overlooked the Hudson River just a short distance from the Catskill Mountains where he was born.

Burroughs was a quiet, cheerful writer who popularized amateur nature observations and instilled an appreciation for local wildlife on his readers. Burrough's geographical area was small, but his intellectual range was large for he was observant of birds and wildlife around him. His talent for nature writing is similar to my own. Observe, listen, then write.

One spring day Burrough's wrote, "We cannot greet every new spring in a new land, but we can in every spring celebrate the miraculous return of the birds, whose disappearance in autumn is as sweetly sad as the falling leaves, and whose return is as cheering as the first flower to bloom in the woods." Already the mute swans and geese have paired off as winter ice wanes.

Spring in Michigan can be enjoyed from early March to the middle of June and it is during this period that many birds return, like Scarlet Tanagers, Northern Orioles, Great Crested Flycatchers, Carolina Wrens, Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrashers, Black and White Warblers, Red-eyed Vireos, Red-winged blackbirds, Grackles, Robins, yes even Blue Jays and Northern Flickers migrates southward a few hundred miles.

When singing male Bluebirds drop out of blue sky in mid-March spring begins - when the dandelions bloom and mosquitoes become vampires the swallows return and when the wild violets bloom the Wood Thrushes arrive. When the Cottonwoods trees flower and the puffy white fuzz flies like a blizzard the Northern Orioles return and so the spring cycle for all returning birds is complete.

"Knowledge is only half the task. The other half is love," said Burrough's.

In order to understand the true rites of spring we must have a passionate love affair with Mother Nature. Each day we must observe and listen to what nature teaches us and here's an example. Have you ever noticed the difference between late winter and early spring. On cold overcast days the woods are silent, but on bright early mornings when the sun is rising the woods are alive with bird chatter. As the days get longer, brighter and warmer, the robins sing beautiful musical tunes from tall trees and the face the sun. They sing louder as storm clouds build and raindrops fall. Even the frogs and spring peepers are silent, but the very next day the meadows, woods and wetlands come alive with the ear piercing screeching from Northern Flickers. The Blue Jays entertain us with their loud tea-kettle sounds and yet their voice is nothing compared to the loud ear piercing, "Woicka-woika-woika, wicker, wicker, wicker or flicka, flicka, flicka" calls of Northern Flickers that echo from distant woodlots far and wide on a warm spring day.

Northern Flickers (Colaptes auratus) are slightly larger than American robins or Blue Jays. These 13-14 inch long birds are the only brown-backed members of woodpecker families in Michigan. The are beautiful with brown back with dark black bars. They are whitish below with black spots and a black crescent slash across the breast and have a white rump in flight. Michigan birds have a red spot on nape of neck. The males sport a black mustache from the bill to just below the black eyes. In forward flight they undulate up and down and the underside wing linings and tail feathers are a flashy golden yellow. They inhabit open woodland areas around farms, orchards (don't drill holes like their cousins) and woodlots. They love parks and tree lined city streets, because these have next cavities just the right size to raise families. They are quite sociable birds.

Due to the warm winter without much snow, already I can hear their boisterous courting rituals, the singing between two pairs of Northern Flickers. Like the Yellow-bellied sapsucker, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, the Northern Flickers are staking out territorial boundaries to attract their mated for life partners with loud rhythmical drumming by striking their bills against hollow or dead branches producing that 'dat-dat-dat-dat' racket on whatever they land upon. To further annoy humans mating flickers will pound out a beat like American Indians banging on drums. They pound on metal rain gutters, drainpipes, stovepipes, dryer vents, trashcans, aluminum siding, mail boxes and street signs. You name it and they'll drive humans nuts. Now you understand what bird puts those tiny dents in these items.

Believe it or not, one spring afternoon I had a terrible headache. I laid down on my bed and before I could fall asleep a clicker was loudly drumming on my roof flashing about twenty feet away. The drumming was obnoxious and loud and the resonant sounds vibrated through the walls nearly causing my head to explode. I was in utter misery. All I wanted to do was rest in silence, but oh, no, the obnoxious birds were bound to drive me nuts. Thoughts of 'justifiable homicide' popped into my mind.

Actually Northern Flickers only utter the loud vocal calls and drummings for about eith weeks from early April to June. The racket they create is for territorial and courtship rituals to attract the females and females arrive two-three weeks after the males arrive. These are head bobbers, a natural response to females. The birds raise their breasts and bob their heads up and down and from side to side. Wings are lifted slightly and tails spread outward to expose the flashy golden yellow underside feathers and then the "Woika, woika, woika" serenades begin. They get pretty intense during territorial conflicts or sexual rivalries for a life mate during the first several days of courtship.

Drum rolling is the rapid hitting of the beaks on resonant objects that produce a "tatatatata" which generally occurs near the nest hole. The "tatatatata" sounds are used to attract its mate to the tree from a distant woodlot. Flickers will return to the same nesting tree year after year and defend a home range about 1/2 mile square near the nest cavity. Once the eggs hatch the territory shrinks and they defend only a 150-acre site. Whenever male and female come together they greet each other with a soft "weeta-weeta-weeta" call. I love listening to the sweet singers.

Well that's all for today's blog. Continued.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer - 6

Hello, my name is Fred... or just call me Fred...or "Hello, I'm Fred and this is my wife Lena. These were respectful introductions Fred always used to make us feel at ease. He was always proud to make your acquaintance with a firm handshake and smile. His way of breaking the ice of those he didn't know was to tell them a short story or good class joke. Fred & Lena Meijer, Rich Devos, Jay Van Andel and my father gave us insights into their humanity and humility. Fred though really shined in conversation and his face was aglow. Where didn't matter, but his smile and laughter are sorely missed in the galleries and halls of FMG and outside in the sculpture park. Volunteers and staff miss the elderly senior gentleman passing out Purple Cow ice cream cards.

From what I hear Fred told an Indianapolis man he had 50 years to redeem it, but the man quickly replied, "Fifty years? I'll be with the Lord by then." Fred whipped out another card and said, "Well, in that case, here's one for the Lord, too! Other wealthy friends and acquaintances have yelled across rooms, like Jay Van Andel, Rich Devos, Norman Schwartzkopf, Gen. Colin Powell and even the Netherlands Queen Beatrix got a card. The Purple Cow ice cream cards
became the Meijer's most coveted card worldwide. Fred and Lena gave these cards to my sister and brother-in-law. They got the surprise of their lives when this old senior couple sat down next to them in an Elton John concert and said, "Hi, I'm Fred and this is my wife Lena Meijer."
I've had several cards over the years, but it is redeemable anytime, but to me its a precious keepsake curio from Fred or Lena.

After all I've written about Fred Meijer there is a sadness in volunteers, friends and family. Much was published in the Grand Rapids Press for nearly a week after his death giving glowing accounts of his achievements, but little was said about Lena, the love of his life, but she was the true power behind his successes. To me she should have gotten some praise while still living, because she supported Fred with her love and compassion for others, too. Seems strange that her name isn't as prevalent on buildings and entities, but maybe that's what she wanted. The love of a faithful wife is what propels her man to do great things, but they seemingly didn't share equally the limelight of success. Opposites do attract each other. I thought it strange in the newspaper stories about Fred to separate or cut Lena from his successes.

She fulfilled her role in her husband's life as a companion, lover and partner, to the end of his life. Fred blossomed because of her selfless love. She was his rock, fortress and the driving force that made Fred excel beyond his father Hendrik's wild dreams for his son's success. Fred accomplished whatever his mind could envision. She allowed him to make mistakes for better or worse, but she stood beside her risk taker, and she like most wives didn't always agree. Fred was a driven man (good) and he did his thing, but he listened to others, and he put joy into the lives of others for knowing him. She was his sugar and spice and she saw him rise to the pinnacle of success, but she never let him forget his humble roots of compassion for others using her Purple Cow ice cream cards.

Fred's latest challenge, vision and dream was the new Japanese Garden at FMGSP. He saw the layouts and drawings, but he began to doubt he'd see construction begin and the final phase be completed. Still he had lots of challenges as he pushed his walking stroller down the hall at FMG the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 2011. He wouldn't sit in a wheelchair and let someone else push him. He was self motivated and that's what kept him a mover and shaker all his life. He thought little of himself and more about others. In fact he gave 50% of his investments back to humanity - to benefit people. He never cared for religious teachings. He didn't like it that wealthy Christians tithed only 10%. He saw no benefit in humanity that those with the most gave so little and it is perhaps this that kept Fred and Lena atheists.

When Rich Devos told Lena 'We have to get Fred right with Jesus Christ' well that was mute point, too, because Fred told her years ago he didn't want any religious contact with Christians.
I was at Fred's memorial service at Sunshine Community Church on the East Beltline in Grand Rapids Township. I did so out of respect to Fred's memory.

Dr. Rev. Richard Rheam talked not so glowingly of Fred. Rheam gave no personal comments about Fred. He never spoke about Jesus Christ or religion. I was saddened to hear this at the time, but didn't know the outcome of whether Fred accepted the teachings of Christ before his death and sought salvation or was he just a true agnostic; a person who refuses to believe the existence of God or Salvation through Jesus Christ. Fred with all his heart made good decisions in business...but not so when it came to religion. Rich DeVos tried to make Fred a believer in Christ, but Fred's heart was like stone. Rich associated himself with Fred hoping he could influence or help Fred make better interpretations of religious theology and viewpoints about Salvation. In doing so he was reaffirming his own beliefs. Fred's heart was hardened against religion. Despite this force-field of religious differences they still remained separate business associates and friends. Christ and religion weren't discussed at the memorial service. Those who attended did so out of respect for Fred and his achievements.

Rheam said, "Fred, asked me have I done enough good works?" Sorry, that didn't sound good to my ears and Fred didn't receive Salvation through Jesus Christ. Was our Fred, the humble man, the man who fueled the dreams of others and those he met with friendship acknowledge Christ.
Christ says of mortal man, (Biblical teachings) "No man shall get to heaven by his good works alone" and Fred's statement of 'have I done enough good works' tells me he remained true to his purest beliefs and didn't accept Christ even at death. The bible says, "he that believes in Me shall inherit eternal life." Did Fred become right with Jesus the last few seconds of his life, well Christ tells us that mortal man is, "Not the judge on earth to decide if Fred yes or no went to heaven." Only our Lord knows the truth. Still we are humble of his passing. We miss him, but sad for Lena, who lost the love of her life.

During the memorial service for Fred Meijer, a Grand Rapids Police Officer sang, "Amazing Grace." I felt it was for the public who attended the service. As he sang on closed circuit TV Fred's old truck carrying his casket came rolling down the pathway from FMG going out to the old Farm house for burial in the farm garden. His monument won't be sited until Spring 2012.

As for Fred "Nothing in mortal life beats stronger than the sacrificed heart of a volunteer's volunteer." The sculptures in the beauty of nature he left behind stand as a monument to the man who truly enjoyed living life to the fullest and leaving a piece of his life behind for all to enjoy. The volunteers at the FMGSP learned much from Fred and miss his presence, friendly smile and jovial nature, as well as Lena, family and friends around the world. He left a big foot print that hard to fill.

What is your destiny? Got a dream? Go for it, but it can't be realized without taking risks in people who have money to enjoy it to help others. Time will tell if his children can rise to meet his expectations. How will Fred's legacy in life compare to their own yet unfolding destiny? Don't forget your destiny, too.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer -5

Hello, my name is Fred (Meijer)... Oh, just call me Fred and he'd say this is my wife Lena, if she was standing beside him. He was proud to introduce himself as the common man. If you met him you'd never know he was a billionaire. He always reminded me of Ben Matlock played by Andy Griffith in his TV show named Matlock who seemed to sometimes wear outdated suits. Of course I've heard that Fred hated to spend more than $10 for food in a restaurant. It wasn't that he was cheap. Mom who is 92 years young said, "He's frugal," and that's something you learned in the Depression Years.

I should point out that the Helm's factory on Plainfield Ave. in Plainfield Township was vacant for perhaps five or six years so my remembrances about when it became a Meijer's Thrifty Acres store might have been off about two years. Evidently Fred and Hendrik were having self doubts about whether they should start Thrifty Acres in 1961. My dad had met Fred several times until the early 1960's and he and in time Rich Devos and Jay Van Andel showed up at my father's greenhouse operation to purchase summer annuals and choice veggie plants. Dad's vision was to treat customers with dignity and respect. They walk hand in hand. Nobody likes to be treated indifferent. To treat a customer poorly doesn't earn their respect and customer loyalty is the only way a business thrives.

It was a warm May evening when Devos and Van Andel (20's age) approached my dad to purchase plants. They were excited about something. Dad could sense excitement in their voices and since they were his last customers for the night Dad invited them inside the house for a refreshing glass of iced tea or water.

Dad saw sparkling eyes, how they shook with excitement and he knew the adrenalin was rushing through their young veins. Their grin was ear to ear, their faces glowing as they put 3 new products down on the table. They explained the products, but he sensed they didn't know exactly how to market them. Dad figured they saw wisdom in my dad's attitude with customers giving them the edge to empower them in the business world. Dad was 25-30 years senior to them, but alas one of them asked him if he ever thought about becoming rich beyond his wildest dreams. He could if he became their partner. My dad instinctively knew he was too old to see that through. Dad didn't dream about acquiring wealth, with the exception, it does deaden the pain of struggling to make ends meet each. My dismal health sure taxed my father's wallet, but he worked harder to make sure my medical bills were paid off.

Well, my father shrugged his shoulders and quietly told them that 'money doesn't buy happiness, but it helps the bottom-line and he could have used more just like we all can', but face it money is hard to come by. Dad's face showed surprise, but he couldn't give them an immediate answer to the rich claim. He told them he needed to do some serious praying and to return in several days. Dad prayed about their challenge all weekend and the two lads returned at closing time. Dad was beat. Often we caught him staring off into space. He wasn't connected to earth. His heart, mind and soul were battling for supremacy. We knew it by his sighing. He was contemplating the 'what if's' and choices of life.

Sitting at the kitchen table sipping ice-cold tea we all saw the tiredness in dad's eyes. He was 50+ years old and working two full time jobs. One working on the assembly line at Kelvinator (White Industries and later Electrolux) in Grand Rapids assembly racking washing machine and dryer doors from 5a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the greenhouse 4:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., the greenhouse the sixth day 10 hours. He was getting tired the faster he worked. Sunday was his respite day - the seventh he kept the Lord's day and adhered to the old Dutch Reformed customs. Almost up until he died he didn't shop on Sunday at store's unless it was imperative for medical needs. Dad was highly respected for his "Not OPEN Sunday" sales.

Dad sat speechless with sweat beads streaking down his filthy face, that's chlorophyll and dirt. Rich and Jay's face beamed with anticipation. My dad sat with eyes closed, his head bowed and elbows flat on the table, his dirty hands cradling his forehead. The lads fidgeted in their chairs waiting his reply, "Are you going to join us?"

Dad sighed deeply, opened his eyes and said, 'Boys listen. I'm older and wiser and set in my ways...I'm too old to see it through and our age differences would pit us against each other, besides two is a partnership and three's a crowd."

With shock and crackling voices they replied, 'But Russ, you could become rich and not have to work so hard for such little pay'. My dad sat and hesitantly replied, 'I'm already rich and I'm enjoying my hobby. His greenhouse job rewarded him enough to pay his taxes on a new house and help pay left over bills' and the greenhouse operation taught us kids about work ethics and how to treat people and customers with dignity and respect, something which is all too absent by many others today. Dad's greenhouse operation wasn't work, but enjoyable play where he could impact and make life more meaningful helping others less fortunate. He never cared whether anyone was rich or poor. He was making a difference in their lives. That's all that mattered - the same philosophy the three lads had mastered.

With lots of soulful prayer he knew the white-collar job being offered wasn't made for him. He'd hate the new job, because his heart was elsewhere. To hate what you do is slavery. Dad in the same breath told them 'our age differences would crimp their style'. His wisdom would cramp their dreams. In the same breath he told them to 'keep their eyes upon Jesus Christ' and hold true to their faith. Never let go. Dad listened to his heart and he pondered investigating new horizons.

Fred and his dad were confronted with dream thinking, too, when they should start Thrifty Acres. Fred was young and pondered the meanings of his dreams. Hendrik was old, had wisdom and to help Fred expand the family business they jumped in with both feet. Fred had passion and vision while Hendrik had experience like my dad. Love what you do you won't be sorry.

When Rich Devos began to worry about Fred's salvation it seems like it was yesterday that I heard my dad tell Rich and Jay to believe in Jesus Christ. They kept that faith strong. Rich, Jay and Fred were benefactors of my father's circle of life and destiny. Dad later in life agreed with their individual achievements and said many times, 'the three boys turned out right,' for their own individuality. He never regretted his decision to turn down Rich and Jay, but he was exceedingly proud of their philanthropic giving and successes, too. Lots has happened since dad's death. Dad would have loved Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

To become billionaires they had to make gut wrenching decisions with heart, mind and soul challenging risky investments and believe in the ability of people they hired. Choices made determines destiny of all. People who become rich earned the right to shower others with their wealth, because of their physical sweat and mental stresses. They treated people with dignity and respect.

All these men gave us insights into their humanity and humility. The rich shouldn't be taxed to oblivion. How you make honest money is up to you. You make your own life through choices and life road maps. Your dreams and destiny are made of what you accomplish. If you've got a dream to become rich you've got to approach it with dignity and respect for others. This is what makes the Meijer Corporation and Amway Corporation special. They energize people to achieve greater things.

I don't believe in Obama's philosophy - tax the rich and spread the individual wealth and profit margins to the poorest. He's never been corporate minded and he'd be the fastest ruination of any company he owned. Obama believes in handouts and welfare - too bad he's never done anything to earn it first, then help the people before he got to the Whitehouse. He has no business sense and lacks dignity and respect for others when it challenges his faulty beliefs. He's not a team player. Never admits he's wrong - it's always your fault - not his. He tempts you to believe everything he says is right, his way, until you prove he's wrong in court. The three lad's believed that having fun is having a winning team. Win with them or lose without them. Associates don't always agree. Obama never admits failure. Obama's lack of corporate intelligence creates unsound decisions and we feel the pain, not him.

Fred Meijer, Rich Devos and Jay Van Andel made a difference in our lives. They have donated sweat, tears and vast amounts of money to make sure we in West Michigan and beyond will benefit us long after they've passed away in West Michigan. Without the wealthiest Grand Rapids would be in the same hard place as Pontiac, Michigan is today - a dying city. The final conclusion is next time. Thanks for listening to give you pieces of my mind.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer - 4

Hello, my name is Fred (Meijer). Lots of time when he introduced himself he'd just say simply, "Just Call Me Fred." When he died on November 25, 2011, the day after Thanksgiving, he was about 13 days shy of his 92nd birthday. Now many people would stop working when they reached the age of 65, but Fred was having lots of fun during the last 27 years.

Those in their 30's had a hard time keeping up with Fred. Fred was like a musical watch. It doesn't stop playing. He knew where he was going and what he had to do before he left this earth. He sacrificed himself to help, inspire and educate others. His name appears on many places; hospitals, research institutions, historical building renewals, but one place you'll never see his name was on a religious institution.

Fred was an atheist and religion he lived without. He had no earthly use for religion, but he did theorize that there were positive things in all faiths (the art of generosity and dignity), but organized religions he wanted no part in. This was the only difference between Fred and my father who was deacon and elder in our church; Knapp Street Reformed Church in Grand Rapids Township until the mid 1970's. Dad followed the teachings of the Holy Bible and taught us children the Ten Commandments -- no guessing what is right or wrong. The Holy Bible is our road map to eternal life, but Fred sacrificed his life for his generous giving to others and left this earth an unbeliever. For all his good works he went to Hell, not Heaven, because he wouldn't let himself believe that Jesus Christ could offer him eternal life. Nothing bears his name on any religious affiliations.

Fred believed in Puritanism and as a Puritan/atheist, he regulated his own way of life and that of communities through his own narrow moral code of excellence that ran parallel with Bible teachings, but he wouldn't let himself believe that Jesus Christ had to be his Savior. He didn't let any sinful or corrupting influences or religious affiliations alter or change his life and the course of his own destiny. He carved out his own niche, choices he made, and no religious person or entity was going to tell him about tithing and what to do in regards to his business affairs.

In 1995 an Ada billionaire and prominent religious member of the community was worried about Fred's salvation and told Lena they had to get Fred right with Jesus. Unfortunately that comment fell on atheist ears, too, because Lena wasn't religious and she was told not to talk about such religious nonsense. During a Grand Rapids Press interview when asked who it was Fred declined to name the man. In a precious moment without prompting Fred said "It was Rich Devos," the Amway co-founder.

Devos and partner Van Andel were men of faith, too, who had been told to keep their faith in Jesus Christ by my father in 1959. We make our own way in life. The choices we make in life helps forge our destiny. Fred, Rich and Jay's dreams and destiny came full circle with my dad's past life 36 years later when Rich Devos seeking Fred's salvation - he wasn't getting younger, but despite prompting he remained atheist and wouldn't budge from his anti-religious stance even at death. All he could ask of Dr. Richard Reahm, his close friend and memorial celebrant, was had he done enough good works?

My father loved Jesus Christ with all his heart, mind and soul and kept his faith strong and alive until his death in 1978, but I can remember the day when my dad told Rich and Jay to believe in Jesus Christ. Him first, wives and children next, but keep the faith and their fledgling business built upon their wildest dreams would succeed. Dad was concerned about their salvation, too, in 1959.

I'm going to stop here because the next segment tells how the later two men were influenced and mentored by my father's life and destiny. I don't want to break the story apart. Religion is a matter of where you keep your heart, mind and soul. To achieve your dreams you must associate yourself with people who support you. Fred didn't want any part of religion telling him his business.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer -3

Hello, my name is Fred...and the most precious ingredient to his being successful in life was his wife, Lena Rader Meijer. She daily gave him the encouragement and inspiration to believe he could do anything and he succeeded in building his own empire of thrifty shopping for us. He shot for the moon and struck it. His dreams created many starlets of satisfaction... and they did it together and were rewarded with children who have kept the corporate giant soaring to save money for its customers. Fred found his own niche in life and his children kept the faith and stayed in dad's growing business. You don't become successful without passion, vision and expertise.

Business owners take lots of risks with investments, but Fred invested in people, all 66,000. It takes skill to keep them all employed, but I can remember when in the mid 1960's his business fell sharply downward and had to downsize stores. Several of my friends lost their jobs working. Never had they thought they'd be on the unemployment lines. Business owners need to make profits to stay in business. No business owner likes to put their trusted employees in the receiving line at an employment agency. When businesses begin to slow, the boss must find ways to stay afloat. To do nothing means when sales don't exceed expenditures means many will lose their jobs. Fred had lots to think and worry about when things weren't going the way he planned. Hiring and firing people takes guts and it makes for many sleepless nights.

Fred became one of the world's 150 richest through hard work and his investments in life. He and Lena lived an unassuming life in a 1957 home they built and never left it. They gave of themselves to the less fortunate, which over time made a drastic difference in the outcomes of lives they never met, while giving them the opportunity to enjoy life to the fullest. Together they stayed humble, and yet, they helped others achieve greater things for humanity. To meet them you'd never know him and Lena were the 13th richest in America and his friends Rich Devos and Jay Van Andel were the 28th richest. All were tireless dynamos - the driving force behind their corporate successes that rose from where many in America strive to accomplish today. They started at the bottom of the ladder and each step up brought new challenges they had to overcome. It takes lots of hard work - flying by the seat of your pants when making investment risks. You do a lot of listening to friends and associates. You have to be flexible when challenged.

Fred was the byproduct of his father Hendrik, a Dutch immigrant. Hendrik set the bar for Fred when in the Depression Years (1934) his father opened his first grocery store in Greenville. He mentored and shaped young Fred on how to treat customers, with respect and dignity, not just in good times, but in the worst. He taught his enterprising son who had dreams beyond his own understanding to share what they had with the less fortunate, but the job was to keep your own head above water while you help others. Those depression years were worse than the financial boondoggle we find ourselves in today. Back then you really had to scratch out your own existence to put food on the table.

My own father, Russell Geldhof, a Dutch/German, too, met Fred shortly after he (dad) returned from World War II in 1946. My father was building his greenhouses and raising annuals and vegetable plants and to me that Fred appeared one day to buy plants and said, "Fred needed more to learn about loyalty to customers." In the late 1950's Fred bought the old Helm's factory on Plainfield Avenue in Plainfield Township. He converted the factory into a Meijer Thrifty Acres store. It wasn't long before Fred made another appearance at dad's greenhouses and attempted to not buy his own plants, but dad's entire production. Dad's operation was strictly retail, however, dad did donate (free) his Petunias to St. Jude's Catholic Church on Four Mile until dad's death in 1978.

Dad's retail operation wasn't large enough to handle the extra volume of plant material at discount wholesale pricing. Selling to a volume buyer meant longer work hours, less profit margins for dad who was already 25 years older than Fred. My dad believed a good businessman could increase sales with his personal gift of gab and delivering more products than what customers purchased. Nobody left dad's greenhouses without extra Cherry tomato plants or specialty flowers. Even when the Meijer Thrifty Acres began selling plants at reduced pricing dad's customers remained loyal and returned year after year including Rich Devos and Jay Van Andel. Dad mentored all three in the art of generosity. Dad was 20-30 years older than all three, but they garnered bits and pieces of his mind and the extra fruits of dad's labor.

One thing my dad never dreamed about was being rich, but his dream was that somebody with money would help build a Botanical Garden in Grand Rapids. The mini-orchid room inside John Ball Park in Grand Rapids was pitiful in the 1960's, but it was better than none. Dad loved the beauty of flowers and that's why his moonlight operation (hobby gone wild) was his third love, just like Lena was Fred's third or second. It's a good thing Lena stood beside her man otherwise Fred's love affair with sculptures would never have happened. I've often wondered if she liked playing his sculpture fiddle. My mom supported dad in all his endeavors, and she worked hard as a housewife, helpmate, lover, partner, etc.

What was my father's first love. Jesus Christ and he kept the faith in his savior till his death in a tragic car accident in 1978 near Lakeview. He spent all day in Mt. Pleasant, but spent most of day studying not flowers, but the brilliance of the blue sky. We wondered if he had a premonition of death. My mother and two children were the loves of his life on earth, but his last love was flower production and everything else with beautiful flowers.

As a teenager growing up in dad's business I was dragged to the Chicago Botanical Gardens every other year or to Ball field trials or Yoder Chrysanthemum field trials where I gradually learned to appreciate the beauty of all things beautiful. Dad would always tell me the secret to life is be happy with whatever you do, but don't feel you have to love everything botanical as much as I. In fact, on occasions when things were going wrong, he said, "Preferably don't think you have to stay in this profession, and in fact. I'd rather you chase your own dreams." I drifted away a few years, but flowers and tropical plants grew on me like fungus and moss. Thrifty Acres was Fred's fungus and moss. I've had dirt beneath my fingernails for 51 years and my wife Lucy knows how rough my hands still get. "Don't touch me! Your hands are like sandpaper."

Wives go where husbands go and they get the satisfaction to know they did it together - rising to the top and going farther than their wildest dreams. Three more segments to go. Got a dream - catch your dream, don't wait till life pushes beyond your physical endurance. Fred didn't stop until...

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer-2

Hello, my name is Fred (Meijer)... and that's how the Grand Rapids, Michigan billionaire and Meijer Thrifty Acres shopping store magnate introduced himself wherever freedom took him. Before a group he'd always crack a joke or antidote. It was his way of breaking the ice to get the conversations flowing. That's the way he introduced himself to guests walking the halls of Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park.

His idea of freedom - the man I saw and not the corporate man - was just get out there and do his thing, which was to invest in people. To accomplish what he did in later life he had to have started early and learned hard lessons along life's journey. I'm sure he wasn't always successful when taking risks. Failures happens. If we only had successrd in life we'd have never learned how to fix it when it broke, had we not failed. He had to learn how to interact with friends and strangers. He always made sure the meeting was friendly and jovial. To gain their respect he invested his money in the lives of others. Good workers are sometimes hard to find. Beyond the shopping stores he used his accumulated wealth to help tens of thousands of people - gave them more than just dreams - he fulfilled the wishes of other entities that would benefit humanity long after he died. He made absolutely sure that his favorite love - the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was there to educate people from all walks of life. Fred saw beauty in dreams and he was fascinated in the beauty of sculptures.

Fred traveled the world to find the world's best and most respected artists and sculpture founders. His love for sculptures took off when he performed his own marriage between his sculptures and botanical selections and helped create FMGSP. Over the years he continued to donate his private sculpture collection for additional beauty with botanical plants, flowers, shrubs, trees, etc. In his dreams he saw the intrinsic value of the arts as a way of educating the public and inspiring (firing) the minds of amateur young minds. As a volunteer docent I had the opportunity over the last 16 years to appreciate his solid and hollow sculptures and Fred has caused lots of children to dream bigger beyond his realm. Being a naturalist & botanist I have combined his art forms with mine. Sculptures show the elemental beauty of nature.

Fred was really impressed with Dale Chihuly's work in glass production. Wow, what a spectacular collection of ceiling art in the Garden Cafe. He hovered on cloud 9 with each new piece of sculpture. Fred and Lena didn't live a lavish lifestyle. They remained humble and used what he did possess to mentor others in the art of philanthropic giving that ensured his legacy. He had always hoped to vision then see the finished works of the Japanese Gardens. He got half the dream - saw the layouts and other philanthropic chipped into funding it before he passed away the day after Thanksgiving. The tentative date the Japanese gardens opens in 2014.

Fred with his easy going personality put smiles on the faces of all he met. He shined when he handed out Purple Cow ice cream coupons with Lena. Both wanted all they met to feel their genuine warmth. He loved conversation and both pandered to children and adults. The less fanfare about wealth is what they cherished. Never did he stand around to gloat or have some security crew keep him from meeting the public. I always loved how they didn't disappear from Michigan to Florida or the Cayman Islands when the first snowflakes fell from dark skies.

Although sculpture collecting was Fred's passion, well, Lena let him do it and she shined like a bright crystal diamond at his side. She did her own things too with friends at FMG, but whatever Fred did she stood large next to her man. She was a positive role model and she must have allowed him to make mistakes and alter plans to correct what went wrong. She took for "better, worse, richer, poorer" to heart. She couldn't hold him back. That's why I say Fred was the Volunteer's Volunteer.

Fred thought little of himself, but more about humanity. He knew life was short on his 75th birthday and FMGSP was his beginning vision bearing fruit. If he had dreams to accomplish she had to let him do his thing and stood beside him with a positive mind. Sometimes husbands and wives don't fully understand each other. When Fred fell into icy water Lena was there to rescue him. If a negative woman dwarfs her husband she'll smother their relationship and he won't be worth a plug nickel.

But, Lena was Fred's rock. She believed and supported Fred and like him she was willing to take great risks, too, which took them both on the greatest adventure in life - their destiny. Lena fulfilled her role as Fred's wife, his faithful companion, lover and partner and she, like we, had the opportunity to admire him for what he accomplished for humanity. She let him step outside the box of normal comfort to accomplish, strive for new goals in an advanced age and never stop learning. This is the Fred I saw. In life Fred got his greatest pleasure helping others achieve greater things and dreams.

Next time I'll take you on a journey into Fred's early life. From my viewpoint you'll gain knowledge never before written about my father's circle of influential friends; two young lads who had the wildest dream. Their dreams revealed the progressive callings of their lives, too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Dreams and Destiny of Fred Meijer - 1

Hello, my name is Fred (Meijer) ... and that's how the Grand Rapids, Michigan billionaire and Meijer Thrifty Acres shopping store magnate introduced himself wherever he went in life.

He was always proud to greet, shake hands and welcome folks. He had learned throughout his life the art of respect and how to earn his customers loyalty. He learned what he knew from significant others; older and wiser mentors in the art of loyalty and respect. Who he (us) meet in life helps shape our destiny. In the beginning he had to struggle, but his dreams took him and Lena, his loving wife and partner in life, on a fantastic journey where he never forgot his roots. He had a choice in life to either chase his dream or let the dream catch him. If it weren't for action friends and relatives we would never attain our legacy or destiny. Fred had a zest for life and never retired. When you are a people person you don't stop at age 65. He was extremely active and enjoyed the interactions with others who enjoyed art and sculptures right up to the very end, November 25, 2011.

Fred Meijer was the Volunteers Volunteer at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. He loved the elemental beauty of gardens, but his pride and joy was his sculpture collection presented in a public atmosphere where other people could appreciate and enjoy art. He generously helped create an exceptional international educational facility that people could enjoy long after his passing.

I shall not just glorify Fred in this 6-part story, but the lives of six other notable people he interacted with in younger years that shaped his destiny as a very giving man.

Fred G.H. Meijer was the 13th richest man in America. He had a passion for treating others less fortunate with respect and he cherished others and helped fulfill the dreams of those involved in the many worthwhile projects that benefited mankind. After the barrage of newspaper stories in Grand Rapids Press newspaper about his passing it stands to reason, you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that Fred Meijer created his own destiny thru art, sculptures and humanitarian reasons; your health and entertainment. His name appears on many things, but he doesn't own them. The name attached to them is out of respect for his large contributions, which led to our lives being more meaningful.

His Dutch immigrant father, Hendrik, began teaching young Fred the art of conversation when during the Depression Year of 1934, he opened his first store in Greenville. Fred helped his father grow the business after getting home from school just as I did for my father's greenhouse (horticultural) operations in the 195o's. Many things would have died before getting to market and the Depression years were tough in the world of retail business, but it took time and experience before Fred really began feeling the pulse of customers and learned how to respect and reap loyalty. Fred's purpose in senior life was to put a smiles on the faces of all he met wherever his travels took him everywhere and shopping with his wife, Lena. He was forever thinking outside the box of normal billionaire comfort. He put people first giving us better lives through his charitable donations. He was a champion's champion of good causes and entities. He lived the life of common man and not some trumped up snobby moneybag. He was an explorer of the human spirit.

Fred was a titan and a man of incredible spirit and boundless energy. He extracted whatever life could bring him and it is us who reaped the benefits of his generous donations. To Fred nothing was impossible. Even I can remember seeing him or Lena hand out autographed Purple Cow ice cream coupons or without request stand at the entryway doors to the store and welcome customers and pass out ice cream coupons or roll up his sleeves and bag groceries for an overburdened cashier. Bagging groceries was a feel good memory in action -- it's a love potion from bygone days.

He was never too proud to stop, talk and help someone. He used his possibility thinking and positive attributes to benefit mankind whether it was in a garden setting, on nature trails, parks, theaters, hospitals, research institutions and communication broadcasting. His energy inspired others to dream the impossible, but do it and not just wish for it. He put his heart, mind and back into projects. I'm sure he met people who said, 'ya can't do that', but Fred despite sharp curves in life, stopped, reassessed the situation, reasoned and resolved many problems and pressed onward. He flew by the seat of understandings and listened to his gut caring little about the obstructionist in life.

My father always said, "To love what you do is play, but to hate what you do in life is slavery." That was Fred. He had passion, vision and expertise in gaining the trust and respect of customers. Got a dream, go for it, but please don't sit on it!

Remember this is number one of six parts - it's what the GR Press omitted, but given to fire you up about chasing your dreams and destiny. Not even Fred was self made. He was taught and mentored by unknowns.