You may not have known Lena Meijer. As with many women of her generation, she was the backbone of the family. In this case, it's the family was the Meijer family, whose stores are all over the Midwest now. Lena Meijer was a daughter, a wife, a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, and eventually a philanthropist. She died this past Saturday. Meijer was 102.

Frederik Meijer and Lena Rader Meijer (Meijer Gardens.org)
Frederik Meijer and Lena Rader Meijer (Meijer Gardens.org)
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Yes, her family's name was on the stores, but where she might have also hoped you would enjoy it most was at Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. She and her husband loved their garden, and when the opportunity came to build "The Meijer Gardens", they gave their support, especially financially. The Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park is a 158-acre botanical garden, art museum, and outdoor sculpture park. It's one of the most popular places of its type in the state. The summer concert series at the Gardens is a pastiche of eclectic artists and performers.

'Mama Loved The Roses'

Lena Meijer loved her rose garden at home and that helped grow into Meijer Gardens, where she developed a fondness for her Japanese Garden. And maybe the Japanese Garden is in some ways symbolic of the journey and adventure that this small town girl took in her life. She was born in Lakeview, Michigan, schooled in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1940, at 21, she moved to Greenville and became a clerk at Hendrik Meijer's grocery store. Eventually, love blossomed with Fred, Hendrik's son, and together they worked in the business until their first son was born. Two more children followed and she did all the parent-type things like PTA meetings and the like.

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There's no simple way to capture a person's life in a few paragraphs, but there is something to say for legacy. Obviously, there's the family, but for the rest of us, there's the beauty of the Meijer Gardens, whether it's to just look at the pretty flowers or to enjoy some beautiful music on a warm summer night. And that we have Lena Meijer, in part, to thank.

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