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Lena Meijer, local philanthropist, passes away at 102

Lena Meijer
Lena Meijer
Lena Meijer
Lena Meijer
Fred and Lena Meijer
Posted at 4:28 PM, Jan 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-15 22:19:40-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Rep. Peter Meijer (R–Grand Rapids) has announced the passing of Lena Meijer, his grandmother, on Saturday.

“Gabriella and I are saddened by my Grandma Lena’s passing, but we are grateful that she is at peace after a long, full, and impactful life,” Peter wrote in a statement released Saturday afternoon. “She was the warmest grandmother a grandson could ask for. Our family will forever cherish the memories and legacy she created with Grandpa Fred.”

Lena was 102.

Born in 1919, Lena Rader grew up in rural Montcalm County. She was one of two kids to her parents, who had a farm in Lakeview. Lena grew up working on the family farm and walking to school.

During her formative years, she played the piano and organ in church, and had a great love for baseball. She graduated from Lakeview High School in 1937 and went on to work at a bank before receiving a phone call to work at Thrift Market in Greenville, which was owned by the Meijer family.

Lena Meijer

In 1946, Lena, who worked as a clerk in the store for years, tied the knot with her sweetheart Fred Meijer, a day she may not have realized was in the making for years, with Fred planning to marry her the very first time he asked her out.

The couple went on to have three children and celebrated the opening of the first Grand Rapids Meijer store in 1949. The company now has about 200 locations across the Midwest.

But Lena and Fred weren't all business. Through the years, the couple supported the arts and promoted both cultural endeavors and nonprofits in West Michigan. One project of theirs that has continued to grow, Frederik Meijer Gardens, opened in April of 1995. Fred and Lena donated the 132 acres and their entire sculpture collection. Since then, it's grown to include an amphitheater, children's attractions and the Japanese garden, which was first announced in 2012.

“It was also Fred’s last wish for Meijer Gardens,” said David Hooker, president of Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. “And really, it's a gift… he wanted it to be a gift of sorts to Lena Meijer. Because Lena loves Japanese gardens.”

Another attraction for outdoor enthusiasts: the Fred Meijer Heartland Trail, which rolls through 42 miles of Central Michigan. It started in 1994 and was completed in 2015. Two years later, a dedication ceremony was held for the Lena Meijer Trail Connector.

Lena Meijer

But it wasn't just community staples and the arts they contributed to, like the 2006 renovation of the Civic Theatre in Grand Rapids.

In 2004, the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center opened in downtown Grand Rapids, adjacent to Spectrum Hospital.

“Grand Rapids is to be congratulated for having this wonderful facility,” said Fred Meijer, “and we will build on it.”

Since then, doctors there have saved countless lives, including Rahn Bentley, who after a battle with progressive heart failure, received West Michigan's first transplant in 2010. They also made the lead gift for the Lemmen-Holten Cancer Pavilion and were the ones who named the facility, which opened in 2008.

Lena and Fred also placed emphasis on education, offering scholarships to Meijer employees and their children. Families mourned the loss of Fred when he passed away in 2011.

And while the couple may be gone, both Fred and his beloved Lena will forever be remembered by the countless impacts and contributions they made to the community they loved.

“The blessings of a long and fruitful life outweigh the sorrow with the passing of our mom, Lena Meijer,” says Meijer Stores Executive Chairman Hank Meijer. “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.”

Fred and Lena Meijer

Spectrum Health President & CEO Tina Freese Decker released a statement in response to Lena's passing:

"It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of Lena Meijer.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends. Lena was a woman of great kindness, compassion and generosity. She was a champion of health care, the arts, nature, education and business.

"Lena had a long-standing relationship with Spectrum Health. Lena and Fred generously gave the lead gift in support of the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center. The people of West Michigan have access to a wide array of high-quality cardiovascular care because of her and Fred’s vision and philanthropy.

"In addition, they also supported the Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavillon, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and United and Kelsey Hospitals.

"Lena will be missed, but her legacy will live on through the programs and services made possible by her compassion and generosity, which will benefit West Michigan for generations. Spectrum Health is very proud and grateful to have her name on the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center as a tribute to a great and gracious lady."

The DeVos family also expressed their condolences in a statement:

“Lena Meijer was a quiet force of nature in our community and we are sad to learn of her passing. 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 / 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 the Meijer Gardens shares that passion with so many others. Lena lived generously and her legacy will live on through the countless lives she touched.”

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss expressed her condolences over Twitter.

So sad to hear about Lena Meijer. She was a remarkable woman who leaves a lasting legacy in our community. My prayers are with her family during this difficult and sad time.

READ MORE: Family and friends remember Lena Meijer and her legacy

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