Longtime philanthropist Lena Meijer dies at 102

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Lena Meijer. Photo via rememberinglenameijer.com

A West Michigan philanthropist and retail mogul recently died.

Lena Meijer died Saturday, Jan. 15, at the age of 102. Family will pay their respects to Lena at a private ceremony, and others, including the DeVos family, offered their condolences and a recollection of the depth of her impact on West Michigan.

“Lena Meijer was a quiet force of nature in our community, and we are sad to learn of her passing,” the DeVos family said. “She had a warm and giving spirit that was evident from the moment she walked in any room. She was a friend and partner to our parents (and) grandparents, as she was to us, and a steadfast supporter of her husband, her family and all of West Michigan. We smile as we think of Lena’s love of flowers and how Meijer Gardens shares that passion with so many others. Lena lived generously, and her legacy will live on through the countless lives she touched.”

Meijer is known for her many philanthropic contributions alongside her late husband Fred Meijer, who died in 2011 at the age of 91.

Meijer — née Lena Rader — was the daughter of German immigrants George Rader and Mary Lutterloh Rader and was born on their family farm near Lakeview on May 14, 1919.

According to her online legacy site, Lena Rader moved to Greenville in 1940, where she was hired as a cashier by Hendrik Meijer in the original Meijer supermarket. She met the grocer’s son and her future husband, Fred Meijer, on the job at the supermarket.

The couple moved to Grand Rapids in 1951, and Lena Meijer became a volunteer for Grand Rapids Public Schools, offering her time to school functions and serving in various civic roles. Although she stepped back from her position at Meijer and shifted her focus to keeping the Meijer family household after the 1952 birth of the first of her three sons, she remained supportive of her husband’s business endeavors.

As Meijer Inc. grew and became a successful multistate operation, the couple turned much of their focus on giving back to the West Michigan community. They gave multiple contributions toward the expansion of educational institutions like Grand Valley State University (GVSU), established multiple scholarships and contributed to projects such as Grand Valley’s Meijer Campus in Holland, according to GVSU.

The couple also provided leadership and support in other endeavors, including the Grand Rapids Pew Campus and the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences on the Medical Mile, which includes the Meijer Family Floor to commemorate their contributions.

“Our hearts go out to the Meijer family,” said Philomena Mantella, president, GVSU. “Lena will be remembered as one of the individuals who helped establish Grand Valley and grow it into the outstanding university it is today. Her impact on the lives of students will be remembered for generations to come.”

The Meijer family also volunteered much of their time and money to Spectrum Health’s Fred & Lena Meijer Heart Center and donated 100 acres of what once was supposed to be a Meijer store location into what now is Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Other contributions include creating multiple hiking and biking trail systems, urban renewal efforts in downtown Grand Rapids, and the restoration of historic spaces such as the Grand Rapids Public Library, according to a historical biography written by their son, Hank Meijer.

“The blessings of a long and fruitful life outweigh the sorrow with the passing of our mom, Lena Meijer,” Hank Meijer said. “Her gracious, giving spirit and dedication to her family, our company and our community were beyond measure and appreciated by many. She will be greatly missed.”

The Meijer Heritage Center opened in September 2016 to share the Meijer legacy and to educate and inspire employees and visitors. The 5,000-square-foot museum is at 2929 Walker Ave. NW in the Frederik Meijer Building on Meijer’s corporate campus.

The legacy center currently offers 3D tours online.

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