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He always reminded me of Ben Matlock played by Andy Griffith in his TV show named Matlock who seemed to sometimes wear outdated suits.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