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He always reminded me of Ben Matlock played by Andy Griffith in his TV show named Matlock who seemed to sometimes wear outdated suits.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.