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The annual Fred & Dorothy Fichter Butterflies are Blooming exhibition at Meijer Gardens opened March 1st.

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GVSU University Relations
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Fred and Lena Meijer

The annual event is considered the nation’s largest, temporary tropical butterfly exhibition held inside the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. That's where butterflies from around the world take wing. From now through the end of April adults and children alike can take in the colors and special educational programming at the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden. Lena Meijer passed away earlier this year. WGVU spoke with David Hooker, Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park President and CEO.

David Hooker: “I was most fortunate and privileged to get to know Lena the last 15 years. The Meijer Gardens mission of promoting the enjoyment, understanding, appreciation of gardens which Lena loved and sculpture, which Fred loved, that mission is a gift from them. The gardens were started because Betsy Borre was a volunteer at the West Michigan Horticultural Society, and she approached Fred Meijer for a gift to start Meijer Gardens. And Fred being a smart man that he said, ‘I need to talk to Lena about this.’ You know, Fred and Lena talked . Now, I wish I could've heard that conversation. But Lena talked about her love of gardens and flowers and so forth, and Fred talked about his love of sculpture and that's how we got started. You know, the gardens that we have here some, like our Rose Garden out at the Michigan Farm garden is a transplanted garden from her home. That came here when they moved to Cook Valley at Porter Hill. You know, it's very intentional that, that places like Lena Meijer Children’s Garden is what it is. Lena love kids and she saw the importance of kids getting outdoors and playing but at the same time learning. One of the things we try to do is make our education programs fun and interactive. For the kids, they're in the children's garden. It's a safe place and they're having fun because they're interacting with the garden. They're interacting with art and by that process they’re learning things. They're learning important things about life and about the natural world."

Patrick Center: "What were her influences? What did she bring to the gardens?"

David Hooker: "Well, the biggest thing is her vision of gardens. You know, she loved gardens and she had this vision that we needed to create beautiful gardens for people to come out and enjoy and, in fact, experience joy. You do that in a social way. Most people come here, not all, but most come here in a group or with a friend and you enjoy the gardens while you talk to each other, while you walk with each other. You know, sometimes you come alone and that that happens, too. And that's a different way of enjoying it. So, that was a huge influence that Lena had on this place."

Patrick Center: "As a person, and you had mentioned 15-years spending time with Lena, what did you learn about her and who she is as a person?"

David Hooker: Lena is one of the most gracious, warm, loving people that I've ever met and I'm sure we'll ever know in my lifetime. It is the highlight of my life getting to spend time with Lena. Our conversations were always fun. They were always meaningful. She always wanted to know about you and your family. I got to see her interact with complete strangers here at Meijer Gardens many, many times. And you know, people would see Lena and want to meet her and often thank her for the gardens that we have here. She would always say, 'Oh, gosh, that's wonderful.' And you know , 'What's your name? Where you're from?' Wanted to know if you had kids? And it was just so genuine and she would engage in conversation for a long time."

Patrick Center: "Are there some special memories or stories that you have."

David Hooker: "Oh, yeah. One of my favorites is the many luncheons we had together in the cafe here. I think Lena’s favorite food was grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup. Because she’d have it have it all the time. And we'd sit there in the café underneath the appropriately named sculpture Lena’s Garden, the Dale Chihuly piece. In more recent years sometimes we did that and we'd be having lunch with her granddaughter and her two great granddaughters. And wow, what fun to see that interaction."

Patrick Center: "There you are having lunch with Lena Meyer under a Dale Chihuly sculpture named after her and yet there is this humble quality. Where is that derived?"

David Hooker: "You know that's a, that's a great question. Her sons could probably better answer that question then me, but I would say it's the sum of her life experiences. It’s her life experiences. And you know, just her innate personality that is so genuine and so warm. It’s just Unbelievable."

Patrick Center: "Did she have a philosophy when it came to life or did you perhaps learn a way to live your life through Lena?"

David Hooker: "You know life is a series of choices. You know, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to bed everything you do you make a choice. Lena made good choices. She made a really good choice in a partner. She made a good choice in a career. She made great choices raising three fantastic, wonderful sons. She made good choices about spending time with their grandchildren, and she made a great choice of saying, you know, we have some wealth, let's do something good for somebody else. And you know, one of those ways, one of many ways, is Fredrick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park."

Patrick Center: "David Hooker, President and CEO, Frederick Meyer Gardens & Sculpture Park. Thank you so much for spending the time and reminiscing."

David Hooker: "My pleasure."

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