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.