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'Lena leaves a legacy of giving': People remember Lena Meijer's philanthropy

“Lena leaves a legacy of giving"; People remember Lena Meijer's philanthropy
Posted at 9:07 PM, Jan 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 10:13:04-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — From helping to save lives and enriching the area’s culture, Lena Meijer’s philanthropic efforts extended beyond the grocery stores associated with her last name. 

“Lena leaves a legacy of giving, of kindness, compassion, focus on family, and I think an impact on countless lives, whether they be family, friends, community, and beyond,” said Dr. David Wohns, division chief of cardiology at Spectrum Health.

Wohns knew Lena Meijer, and her husband Fred, for roughly 25 years. Their relationship grew when he worked alongside the couple to build Spectrum Health Hospitals Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, which opened in 2004 and is the only place in the area that provides open heart surgery and transplants.

Lena Meijer’s selflessness is how Wohns says he’ll remember the 102-year-old woman.

“We're [Wohns’ family] there for her 100th birthday party and she's asking me about my family, which was absolutely the way she was,” said Wohns. “She saw others.”

Tina Freese Decker, Spectrum Health’s president and CEO, added further contributions by Lena and Fred Meijer led to the development of other centers along the Medical Mile, such as the Lemmon-Holton Cancer Pavilion and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“It [the heart center] was a catalyst,” said Freese Decker. “It also solidified that we are moving forward as Spectrum Health, as one organization that serving our local communities, but is ensuring that we're serving the entire West Michigan.”

Lena Meijer’s passion for nature led to the couple’s other major contribution to West Michigan.

In the 1990s, Lena and Fred Meijer backed what would eventually become the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park on the northeast side of Grand Rapids.

Two attractions within the park behold Lena Meijer’s namesake, the children’s garden and tropical conservatory.

For years, Lena Meijervolunteered by decorating the German Christmastree during the holidays.

“It made me feel sad just knowing that she had passed away and just thinking about all the different places where I see her name,” said Jill Koning, who was at Meijer Gardens on Sunday. “We don’t have a big yard, so this is our way of enjoying nature… without having to take care of it ourselves.”

“It’s kind of our getaway and it’s been nice as they’ve gotten older to take them with us and all of the children’s stuff,” said Kristina Roles, another visitor. “They love running around and playing.”

In lieu of flower, the Meijer family is asking memorial contributions in Lena Meijer’s name be made to the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden.