Lena Meijer, matriarch of Meijer family and philanthropist, dies at 102

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Lena Meijer, noted philanthropist and wife of entrepreneur Fred Meijer, died Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022, her family confirmed. She was 102.

Her family remembers her as a beloved mother and grandmother, while members of her community remember her for the work she did to support not only the Meijer Inc. retail business but also everyone from her local public schools to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

"Grandma Lena was the warmest grandmother a grandson could ask for," said Rep. Peter Meijer, her grandson, in a tweet. "Our family will forever cherish the memories and legacy she created with Grandpa Fred."

According to a website set up in her honor, Meijer was born to German immigrants George Rader and Mary Lutterloh Rader on a family farm near Lakeview. In 1940, she moved to Greenville, where she was hired by Hendrik Meijer as a cashier. She met Hendrik's son, Frederik, there, and the two married in 1946.

Lena Meijer

They moved to Grand Rapids in 1951, and she worked in the business until her eldest son, Hank, was born in 1952. The couple had three sons, Hank, Doug and Mark.

Meijer was active in the Grand Rapids Public schools and also served in other civic roles, according to her obituary. She was "an enthusiastic partner" to her husband as the Meijer business grew, but she also tended closely to her household.

She and her husband were known to be generous with their time and their wealth. Many will remember Meijer for her philanthropic work, which regularly featured her personal interests. Meijer loved gardens, which "helped inspire her and her husband’s commitment to create the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park," according to her memorial website. She often volunteered to decorate the German Christmas tree at the gardens.

Meijer and her husband also donated to several other causes. They gave land to Grand Valley State University that would eventually become the school's Meijer campus in Holland and established multiple scholarships at the university. They were both recognized as part of GVSU's Hall of Fame as "Grand Stewards" of the university, "recognizing their lifetime contributions to the university and the West Michigan community," the school said in a post honoring her.

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

They also helped lead the capital campaign for what would become the Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids.

The center "is one of their many everlasting impacts — generosity that is saving lives each and every day," said Leon Hendrix, communications lead for Spectrum, in a tweet.

Her husband, Fred, died in 2011 at 91 years old.

She is survived by her sons, seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A private ceremony is planned.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Lena Meijer Children's Garden at the Frederik Meijer Gardens.