‘Just call me Fred’: Meijer recalled for generosity, kindness

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 12:13 pm on Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fred Meijer — File photo

GRAND RAPIDS — “Generosity” and “kindness” are two words that come to most people’s minds when thinking of Fred Meijer.
People who knew Meijer reminisced about who he was as person after he died from a stroke on Friday.
Public visitation will be from 2 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday at Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids Township. The family will have a private memorial service on Wednesday for invited guests only.
Friend, longtime employee and biographer Bill Smith started working at Meijer stores as a meat delivery boy when he was only 19. He advanced through the ranks and was promoted to the company’s marketing and public relations department before he retired 10 years ago.
Smith said he became fairly close with Fred Meijer and the Meijer family while he worked at Meijer stores for 42 years.
“He was a very humble man that liked to do things for people,” Smith said of Fred Meijer.
During Smith’s time in the marketing and publicity department, he talked to Fred Meijer about getting the word out for the company’s charitable activities.
“He never wanted to take credit for the great things he did,” Smith said. “He was always doing things.”
One memory Smith has of Meijer was meeting him for the first time. Smith said he was taken into the office to be introduced to Meijer and he addressed him as Mr. Meijer.
“’Just call me Fred,’” Smith said Meijer told him.
Smith was surprised Meijer was telling a 19-year-old kid to call him “Fred.”
“That was my first introduction of a wonderful man,” Smith said.
Thinking back over the years, Smith said there was never a time when he saw Meijer angry.
During this time of year, Smith said Meijer and his wife Lena, filled up their car with fruit baskets and drive to the Greenville area.
They spent a day delivering the baskets to their friends, mostly widows or widowers, and chat with people who needed a friend during this time of year, he said.
“He was absolutely amazing and generous to a fault,” Smith said. “The whole family is just a great family.”
Bill Delp, a lifelong friend of Meijer and local historian, said Meijer was “very generous” in supporting the Fighting Falcon Military Museum. Over a 10-year period, Delp said Meijer made many donations to the museum.
“There is a lot of things we (the museum) wouldn’t have been able to do without him,” Delp said.
Marcia Walker grew up across from the Meijer family’s farm on VanDeinse Avenue as a child. Because Fred Meijer was seven years older than Walker, she did not become good friends with him until later in life.
She said growing up, Meijer was closer to her brothers and would see him around, but she and Meijer became closer as they got older and started attending community events.
There is one thing she knew of Fred Meijer and his family growing up that sticks out in her mind.
“Everyone worked all the time,” Walker said of the Meijer family. “When (Fred Meijer) was not in school, he was working.”

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