Just call him ‘Fred’

SIGN HERE—A beaming Rockford Mayor Janice “Chi Chi” Rogers (center) has just had her book autographed by Fred Meijer. Pam Kleibusch (right) has been Fred’s personal assistant for 52 years. Coincidentally, Rogers has been an official greeter and event coordinator for the Rockford Meijer since the day it opened.

SIGN HERE—A beaming Rockford Mayor Janice “Chi Chi” Rogers (center) has just had her book autographed by Fred Meijer. Pam Kleibusch (right) has been Fred’s personal assistant for 52 years. Coincidentally, Rogers has been an official greeter and event coordinator for the Rockford Meijer since the day it opened.

Meijer book-signing event an evening of fun

by CLIFF AND NANCY HILL

Last Wednesday evening, Nov. 11, as Fred and Lena Meijer walked through the entrance of North Rockford Middle School, they were greeted by someone who said, “Hi, Fred. How are you?” With a big grin on his face, Fred’s quick-witted response was, “You don’t ask a 90-year-old man a question like that unless you have the rest of the day for the answer!” Thus set the tone for an evening of fun.

Fred—as always, he insists that everyone call him by his first name—and Lena were in town for a Rockford Area Historical Society sponsored book-signing event. The featured book was “Fred Meijer – Stories of His Life,” authored by Bill Smith and Larry ten Harmsel, who were also present.

A near-capacity crowd filled the school’s auditorium as Terry Konkle, president of the Rockford Area Historical Society, welcomed everyone present to a short program prior to the book-signing. After a brief and hilarious video—Fred was seen and heard singing “Happy Trails to You”—ten Harmsel, historian for the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park and one of the book’s authors, read an excerpt from the book from a time when Fred was a boy of 13. Ten Harmsel then introduced his co-author, Smith, a Meijer Corporation employee for over 40 years. The banter of both men was lighthearted as they led into the introduction of the guest of honor, Fred Meijer.

 

WRITERS OF NOTE—Not in the least bit shy about networking, Mayor Rogers stands with book authors Bill Smith (left) and Larry ten Harmsel (right) along with Lena Meijer (center, where Fred said she belongs).

WRITERS OF NOTE—Not in the least bit shy about networking, Mayor Rogers stands with book authors Bill Smith (left) and Larry ten Harmsel (right) along with Lena Meijer (center, where Fred said she belongs).

Fred, as he always does, held everyone in the palm of his hand as he spoke lovingly of his bride of nearly 63 years, telling everyone, “She is only 39 years old and she’s the boss and always has been.” Lena loved it and so did we. He went on to introduce his personal assistant, Pam Kleibusch, who has been his “right-hand woman” at Meijer Inc. for 52 years. Fred finished by saying, “The grocery business is serious business. We’ve got to pay the bills, do the job, and have fun along the way.”

 

The audience then exited to the foyer for the book-signing and light refreshments provided by the Historical Society.

Everyone present that evening had arrived with a previously purchased book or bought one that night at the door. Some held more than one copy in their hands. This was not just any rubber-stamp book-signing event. The long line of people waited in patient anticipation as, one at a time, Fred placed a personal message and his autograph in every book presented to him. Not satisfied with just that, Fred took the time to listen to their personal stories of somehow having a connection or crossing paths with the man himself.

The line then moved on to Lena and the conversations continued as she added her signature next to Fred’s. Authors ten Harmsel and Smith autographed the books as well.

Some 27,000 copies of the book were published and it is expected they will be sold out by year’s end. For those who haven’t read the book, we can tell you that it is an easy read that speaks to the inherent goodness in all of us. It is a human story about a boy and then a man—at his father Hendrik’s side in the early years—who grew the small family grocery store in Greenville, Michigan, to the largest chain of privately held grocery and general merchandise supercenters in the United States. Fred Meijer succeeded by a strict lifelong adherence to his core values of honesty, fairness, respect for others, and fun, fun, fun.

The book should be required reading for university students studying business curriculums across the spectrum, finance, psychology, humanities, and liberal arts, to name some of many.

It is a book compiled of interviews and anecdotal reflections. Fred and Lena graciously sat through lengthy interviews over a two-year period. The Meijers’ sons, Mark, Doug and Hank, were of constant help and encouragement and generous in contributing stories from their youth. Scores of people from U.S. presidents and world leaders, to business titans, Meijer employees (of all rank), and just everyday people from every walk of life contributed their stories about Fred. In a labor of love, the authors then wove this inspiring collection of stories into a tapestry of the remarkable life of Fred Meijer.

In the book, when asked by the authors what he would like people to think of him after he is gone, Fred said, “What I would want people to say about me is, ‘He did his best as he saw it.’ And hopefully the world was a little better.”

That would be a totally fitting epitaph, but the book ends leaving us wanting more. The rest of the story is yet to be written. Fred has not lived out the rest of his life. The best may be yet to come.

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