Gary Vermeer, founder and Chairman Emeritus of Vermeer Corporation in Pella, IA, died February 2, 2009, at the Comfort House of Pella. He was 90 years of age.
He is survived by his wife, Matilda, and three children and their spouses, Stanley and Alma Vermeer, Robert and Lois Vermeer, and Mary and Dale Andringa, eight grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren.
Gary Vermeer and a cousin started the business in 1948, after inventing a wagon hoist five years earlier, which made it easier to unload corn. Demand for the labor-saving device from his neighbors prompted him to open Vermeer Manufacturing Company.
From that small operation, the company has grown over the past 60 years to an international organization that manufactures agricultural, construction, environmental, and industrial equipment. Today, Vermeer Corporation has industrial dealerships in over 60 countries and on every continent except Antarctica, in addition to hundreds of agricultural equipment dealers throughout the U.S. Its corporate offices and manufacturing facility in Pella, IA, cover 1.5 million square feet—more than 33 acres—under roof. That includes seven manufacturing plants, a parts distribution center, and the Global Pavilion, which includes an arena, training center, and the Vermeer Museum. Two of Gary Vermeer’s children, Robert Vermeer and Mary Vermeer Andringa, now serve as co-chief executive officers of Vermeer Corporation. Three of his grandchildren also are active in the corporation.
Today, the company manufacturers more than 100 product models, including a more recent line of Vermeer Navigator horizontal directional drills, and many other products in its four product segments: forage management, specialty excavation, environmental transformation, and underground installation.
Born September 29, 1918, in Pella, to Jacob and Anna Vermeer, Gary Vermeer was raised in a farming community with strong Dutch roots. After his marriage in 1941 to Matilda Van Gorp, the couple started their lives together with 120 acres of land. Throughout the years, Vermeer continued to accumulate farmland, and though he hired farm managers as factory demands increased, Vermeer always took time out of his schedule to climb back on the cultivator, planter or combine, as recently as spring of 2007. All of his grandchildren—and many of his great grandchildren—have enjoyed sitting at his knee or by his side while he harvested corn.
In addition to Gary Vermeer’s notable contributions to manufacturing, he is well known for his philanthropy. The company started a foundation in 1958 to set aside a portion of the company’s profits. Over the years, the Vermeer Charitable Foundation has made significant contributions to many projects, both locally and worldwide. These include many college scholarship programs, building projects at Dordt, Calvin, and Central colleges and Pella Christian High School, disaster relief, aid for missions, and much more.
Vermeer took an active role in his church and community, and used his passion for the outdoors and for flying to serve others. In 1958, he helped lead a drive that raised more than $450,000 to build the Pella Hospital.
He also served on many area boards and was recognized with several awards including the Pella Community Service Award in 1977, and was named Iowa Inventor of the Year in 1984. He was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame in 1986, the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Achievement in 1992, and the Construction Equipment Industry Hall of Fame in 1996.
In honor of Gary Vermeer and his lifetime of contributions, a
website has been created so people can send the family condolences: www.garyvermeer.com.
HAROLD J. MUELLER passed away February 16, 2009. Harold was born March 13, 1926 in Milwaukee, WI, the son of Alex and Hilda Mueller. He married Beatrice Lepsch in 1947 while serving as a Sergeant in the army. After his service, he finished his education at Marquette University. Upon graduating in 1947, Harold and Bea moved to La Crosse, WI to embark upon raising a family and his chosen career as a high school teacher.
In 1956, they moved back to Milwaukee where Harold joined his father in the underground utility construction industry. The company was renamed Mueller Company in 1960 when Harold’s brother, Bob, joined them. Over time, Mueller Company evolved into the MRM Technical Group, the largest distribution pipeline construction company in the United States. At its peak, the company employed almost 3,000 people.
Mueller was among the first in the industry to recognize that investing in its people was both a good business practice and a moral responsibility. Along those lines the company was one of the first to sponsor its own welding school. In 1989, the company started a management academy at Marquette University in Milwaukee. More than 300 people took part in the INMRM Academy. In 1998, the school was expanded to add a graduate academy in England for those that showed both dedication and a desire for continued self-improvement.
Harold ensured that the management of the company recognized its moral responsibility for the man in the trenches. This was recognized in 1999 when the company was sold. Employees and members of the employee stock program shared in over $50,000,000 of the proceeds from the sale.
Harold is survived by his beloved wife Beatrice, sons James (Jean), Michael (Deanna), Jerold (Elizabeth), Dennis (Kellie) and daughter Jane Koth (Charles), his brother Robert (Catherine) Mueller, 25 grandchildren and 17great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents Alex and Hilda, his sisters June Draeger and Pauline Biskobing, infant son Jon Mueller, grandsons Jon Koth and Joseph Mueller and great grandchildren JJ Mueller and Katherine Mueller.
A service for family and local friends was held in Clearwater, FL. A memorial mass will be planned at a later date in Milwaukee, WI.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Malaika Early Learning Center, 125 W. Auer Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53212.