The Meijer Foundation
By Lisa Kay Mencer
Graduate Student, Ferris State University - Grand Rapids Campus
Although The Meijer Foundation, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, began as a means to facilitate development of the Frederik Meijer Gardens project, the foundation has grown to support all of the charitable efforts of Frederik and Lena Meijer and the Meijer family.
Frederik Meijer is a modern entrepreneur in Grand Rapids, Michigan and has produced a legacy that would make the original settlers of the area proud. With over 150 grocery and general merchandise stores across the Midwest with 85,000 employees, the Meijer name is well-known. In addition to the charitable giving of the Meijer Foundation, every Meijer store endorses and supports local causes.
For the West Michigan city of Grand Rapids, the legacy is even more visual in the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which includes the newly opened Lena Meijer Children’s Garden, named for Fredrik’s wife Lena. Both are cultural centers for the community and state, while the Children’s Garden is one of the largest in the nation (Aksomitis 2004).
To understand the history of the Meijer Foundation is to understand the history of the Meijer family. Hendrik Meijer came to the United States in 1907 as a 23-year-old factory worker. He immigrated to Holland, Michigan, because there he could he could speak Dutch. However, disliking the prevailing religiosity of his Calvinist fellow Dutch Americans, he took up barbering in Greenville, Michigan (University of Michigan 2003).
In 1934, Hendrik and his son Fred founded the first Meijer store, the Meijer Grocery in Greenville, with $338.76 worth of merchandise purchased on credit. Fred started out in the business as a bagger at age 14. Fred married Lena Rader Meijer, a German farm girl who worked at the Meijer Thrift Market in Greenville. The Thrift Market grew into Meijer’s Thrifty Acres, the nation’s first one-stop-shopping, 24/7 supercenter (ibid.).
The Meijers moved to Grand Rapids in the 1950s to expand their grocery chain. The company soon adopted a Dutch boy in wooden shoes for its logo, a way to win the appeal of the area’s price-conscious consumers. They purchased ranch style houses on Grand Rapids’ northeast side where Fred still lives today (ibid.).
In 1990, the Meijer foundation was established as an independent foundation with Frederik Meijer serving as the foundation’s trustee.
In 2003, the Meijer Foundation was the 26th largest Michigan foundation by assets (The Foundation Center, 2005), and in 2002, was the 7th largest U.S. foundation awarding grants in Michigan (The Foundation Center 2004).
The Meijer foundation is administered by a Fifth Third bank of Grand Rapids. The assets of the foundation are derived from contributions of the Meijer family and the Meijer retail chain. The foundation accepts no grant applications and awards no grants to individuals. Frederik Meijer himself decides which grants the foundation will give. The foundation’s purpose and activities are stated as giving primarily to a horticultural society, a charitable trust, funding for community foundations, an art museum, and the foundation administers a donor-advised fund. Its geographic focus is Michigan with most giving occurring in Grand Rapids, but some giving is also awarded in Greenville (Foundation Directory Online).
Also in 2003, the Meijer Foundation’s assets totaled $72,809,187; expenditures totaled $9,462,140; total giving was $8,993,169; qualifying distributions totaled $8,993,919; and giving activities included $8,993,169 for 33 grants (high: $3,000,000; low: $10,000; and average: $100,000-$400,000) (ibid.).
In that same year, the following grants were supported: $6,196,223 to Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park for 10 grants: $3,000,000 for children's gardens; $757,823 for Farmhouse and Heritage Gardens; $704,000 for purchase of Domestic Spider sculpture; $330,000 for purchase of Juan Munoz sculpture; $307,800 for matching gifts for annual fund support; $297,500 for purchase of Sir Anthony Card sculpture; $275,000 for purchase of Henri Laurens sculptures; $184,500 for purchase of Lynn Chadwick sculpture; $179,600 for purchase of Leaping Gazelle fountain; and $160,000 for purchase of The Kiss sculpture (ibid.).
Without the Meijer Foundation, Meijer Gardens would not have happened. Based on that fact alone, the importance of the Meijer Foundation to Grand Rapids and Michigan is significant.
Meijer Gardens hosts over 600,000 visitors a year and is currently the second most popular cultural destination in Michigan. The sculpture park, featuring 170
works of art, is the most significant in the Midwest and draws visitors from around the country. The 125 acre complex is staffed by 145 professionals and supported by nearly 75,000 volunteer hours each year. With annual revenues nearing $10 billion, the park is a major achievement for the Meijer family and the dedicated staff and volunteers who staff and manage the park. However, while wandering the huge outdoor complex, one realizes that the Meijer family enlisted the help of a number of prominent Michigan philanthropists in the design and implementation of the facility.
The colorful backdrop of the Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial & Bulb Garden features seasonal changes and variety. The changing blooms in the lovely setting of the Jennifer C. Groot New American Garden are noteworthy as is the serenity of the Gwen Frostic Woodland Shade Garden (Meijer Gardens).
The Peter Wege Nature Trail and Frey Boardwalk lead you past many of the gardens, offering their own interesting variety of plant life. The Earl and Donnalee Holton Arid Garden highlights several rare and unusual plant species. In this unique greenhouse, you'll discover hearty blooms whose beauty can withstand the extreme temperatures of some of the world's driest environments. Interesting and sometimes exotic plants abound in the Victorian Garden Parlor, featuring species popular during that era (ibid.).
The Grace Jarecki Seasonal Display Greenhouse changes dramatically season by season. Even in harsh winter, bright colors and interesting foliage are visible.
And, the Lena Meijer Conservatory, the largest conservatory in Michigan, houses a wide array of tropical plants and flowers from every corner of the world. Many of the Gardens' most impressive exhibits are featured in the Conservatory (ibid.).
The Meijer Sculpture Park is the most comprehensive collection of outdoor sculpture within the Midwest. This open-air museum was dedicated with 25 pieces. The sculptural focus is modern sculpture from Rodin's period to the present with representational, abstract, and non-objective styles (ibid.).
Ties to the Philanthropic Sector
In close association with the Meijer family is the Meijer, Inc. Corporate Giving Program. The program’s and activities are stated as making charitable contributions to nonprofit organizations involved with arts and culture, K-12 education, parks and recreation, senior citizens, and to hospitals, police and fire departments, food banks, and churches. Types of support provided include donated products, employee volunteer services, and general/operating support.
The Public and Consumer Affairs Department within the Meijer corporation handles giving. Corporate officers of the program are Doug Meijer, Co-Chair; and Hank Meijer, Co-Chair and C.E.O (Foundation Directory Online).
Meijer is an industry leader with stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. In a philanthropic framework initiated by Fred and Lena Meijer, the leadership at Meijer Stores is guided by the local community—the company wants to be a part of what its community supports. The Meijer Community Rewards program is just the latest in a long history of charitable giving by the 70-year-old company (Retailers 2004).
Schools, churches and community organizations register with the program at no cost and receive a code to share with their members and supporters. The organization’s code is linked to the supporter’s Meijer credit card, and each time the card is used, a percentage of the money spent is directed to the organizations linked to the card. To date, the company has given over $3.7 million back to the over 4,800 participating organizations in Michigan. Schools have used the program to buy computers and band uniforms; churches have used the funds for food banks, building additions and more (ibid.).
Major recipients of Meijer’s generosity include the National Kidney Foundation, The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the American Red Cross, The United Way and various children’s hospitals (ibid.).
All Meijer stores are actively involved with their local schools, sponsoring Accelerated Reading programs, Dignity and Respect programs and Books for Bikes. Meijer was also instrumental in providing relief during times of emergency, such as the 2003 blackout in southeastern Michigan and Lansing (ibid.).
Years of giving continue with significant support for the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. The Meijer Foundation donated $250,000 to endow the Meijer Fellowship for public policy students, and an additional $250,000 toward construction of a new building to house the Ford School. A recent Meijer Fellow is Brooke DeRenzis who previously served an internship in the office of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick with the support of the Ford Motor Company Fund (University of Michigan Office of Development 2005).
Key Related Ideas
Personal philanthropy is the idea that philanthropy is a personal responsibility. Any individual can and should donate time, energy, or money to support the causes and issues that hold personal value for them. In the United States, nearly 85% of philanthropic giving comes from individuals (World Economic Forum, 2001).
Regional philanthropic cooperation has resulted in Regional Associations of Grantmakers. These groups are nonprofit membership associations of foundations and related organizations that share a common goal: to strengthen philanthropy in a distinct geographic region—be it a city, state or multi-state area (Kibbe 1999).
Single purpose foundations are foundations created to support a sole purpose or project. An example of this type foundation is The Michigan Botanic Garden Foundation. Established in 1993, the single-purpose foundation’s goal is creating an endowment fund to support the Frederik Meijer Gardens, which
includes the Michigan Botanic Garden and the Meijer Sculpture Park (Michigan Botanic Garden Foundation).
Important People Related to the Topic
- Gwen Frostic (1906-2001): Frostic was known worldwide for her work as a nature artist. She bequeathed Western Michigan University 13 million dollars, the school's largest single gift ever, and gave her name to the Woodland Shade section of Frederik Meijer Gardens (Greater Grand Rapids Woman’s History Council 2004).
- Earl Holton (1934-): Holton has worked in operations and management positions at Meijer, Inc. since the 1950s. He is a former chairman and current board member of the Grand Rapids Economic Club, and is also a board member of Frederik Meijer Gardens, Michigan Colleges Foundation and the Right Place Committee. Holton is a key contributor to Meijer Gardens (Steelcase 2005).
- Clare Jarecki (1909-2003): Jarecki’s name and legacy will continue through the $1.1 million Clare and Grace Jarecki Fund at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The unrestricted fund was created through a charitable gift annuity that Mr. Jarecki and his wife, Grace, created with the Community Foundation in 1997. He is also a key contributor to Meijer Gardens (Grand Rapids Foundation).
- Leslie Tassell (1910-): Tassell, a generous philanthropist, has made large contributions to build the educational resources of West Michigan. His benevolence has enabled Grand Valley State University to build not only an engineering building, but a health professional building as well. Tassell is also a key contributor to Meijer Gardens (Grand Rapids Community College 2005).
- Peter M. Wege (1925-): Wege, described by his peers as an "ecological visionary" and an "advocate for human betterment," has been devoted to "cleaning up" the environment and saving the Great Lakes for decades. Wege created the Wege Foundation in 1967, a personal dream to provide for the future needs of the community. He is also a key contributor to Meijer Gardens (School of Natural Resources and Environment 1999).
Related Nonprofit Organizations
- Colen Foundation, Inc. makes grants to qualified charities and provides assistance to the charitable class of the aged to enable members of the class to maintain a modest standard of living in their communities during their declining years. Fields of interest include the developmentally disabled, elementary school/education, horticulture/garden clubs, Jewish agencies and temples, museums, and the performing arts.
- Elizabeth T. Fessenden Charitable Foundation provides giving primarily for education and theater. Fields of interest include botanical gardens, education, environment, historic preservation/historical societies, horticulture/garden clubs, hospitals, libraries, media and television, museums, performing arts, and reproductive health and family planning.
- H.C.S. Foundation provides grants primarily for health care, higher education, the arts, a botanical garden, and the United Way.
- James & Shirley Balk Foundation provides giving primarily for Christian education, the arts, churches, human services, and botanical gardens.
- Michigan Botanic Garden Foundation was established in 1993 as a single-purpose foundation with the goal of creating an endowment fund to support the Frederik Meijer Gardens, which includes the Michigan Botanic Garden and the Meijer Sculpture Park.
- Shoreland Foundation provides giving to human services, horticulture and garden clubs, education and museums.
Related Web Sites
Botanic Gardens Conservation International Web site, at http://www.bgci.org.uk, is the definitive source for information about botanical gardens world wide, their operations, and philanthropic funding for botanical gardens.
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park Web site, at http://www.meijergardens.org, offers and events calendar, horticulture collection and sculpture collection listings, as well as ways to volunteer and donate to the Gardens.
Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum Web site, at http://sitemaker.umich.edu/mbgna, provides information about a botanical garden and arboretum maintained by the University of Michigan.
Meijer Retail and Grocery Supercenters Web site, at http://www.meijer.com, offers information on store locations, products, weekly ads, and current philanthropic promotions.
New York Botanical Gardens Web site, at http://www.nybg.org/support_the_garden/planned_giving.php, includes a number of giving alternatives. The site is a model for building philanthropic support.
Bibliography and Internet Sources
Askomitis, Linda. “Grand River Valley Entrepreneurs: The Grand Rapids Legacy.” Travel Lady Magazine, August, 2004,
Grand Rapids Community College. About Leslie E. Tassell. [2005; Accessed 6 June 2005]. http://www.grcc.edu/ShowPage.cfm?PageID=1210.
Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council. “A Walk with Gwen Frostic.” GGRWHC Newsletter, Winter, 2004, http://www.ggrwhc.org/newsletterarchives-2004-winter.pdf.
Grand Rapids Community Foundation. Clare Jarecki. Accessed 8 June 2005.
Kibbe, Barbara D., and others. Grantmaking Basics: A Field Guide for Funders.
New York: Council on Foundations, Inc., 1999. ISBN: 0913892750.
Meijer Gardens. Meijer Gardens. Accessed 6 June 2005. http://www.meijergardens.org.
Michigan Botanic Garden Foundation. The Michigan Botanic Garden Foundation Mission. Accessed 7 June 2005. http://www.mbgf.org/mission.htm.
Retailers. “Michigan retail industry announces Retailers of the Year.” News. [2004; Accessed 6 June 2005]. http://www.retailers.com/news/newsreleases/041012.html.
School of Natural Resources and Environment. Peter M. Wege. [1999; Accessed 8 June 2005]. http://www.snre.umich.edu/about-snre/profile-gift-peter-wege.php.
Steelcase. “Earl Holton.” Board of Directors. [2005; Accessed 8 June, 2005]. http://www.steelcase.com/na/ourcompany.aspx?f=14045&c=17809.
University of Michigan Office of Development. “Meijer rings up support for Ford School.” Leaders & Best, 2005, http://www.giving.umich.edu/leadersbest/winter2005/difference.html.
University of Michigan. “Hank Meijer ’73: Man of Commerce, Man of Letters.” Michigan Today, Summer 2003, http://www.umich.edu/news/MT/03/Sum03/meijer.html.
Foundation Center. “Top 50 Michigan Foundations by Assets, circa 2003.” [2005; Accessed 27 November 2005]. http://foundationcenter.org/findfunders/statistics/pdf/09_top50_aa/2003/mi_03.pdf
Foundation Center. “Top 50 U.S. Foundations Awarding Grants in the State of Michigan, circa 2002.” [2004; Accessed 27 November 2005]. http://fdncenter.org/fc_stats/pdf/03_fund_geo/
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