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.