Hank Meijer honors legacy of GR politician with biography

A photo of Frank Meijer, who wrote a biography about Grand Rapids politician Arthur Vandenberg.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Meijer name is synonymous with West Michigan — a name known for one-stop shopping chains built across the Midwest.

But one Meijer family member is branching out with a different kind of endeavor: writing.

Hank Meijer has a personal history with the craft, as he has worked as a journalist and wrote a book about his grandfather starting what has become the Meijer empire.

Meijer’s newest book combines his love history and his hometown of Grand Rapids. It also ventures into the premise of making a political compromise, an occasion that doesn’t happen often in today’s political landscape.

However, Meijer believes one Grand Rapids politician who died more than 60 years ago knew the country wouldn’t survive without making compromises and embracing change.

“Arthur Vandenberg realized that it was just essential to who we are that we work out our differences and come together,” he said.

Vandenberg was born in Grand Rapids in the 1880s and served as a U.S. Senator from the late 1920s through the early 1950s. His legacy is honored with a statue in downtown Grand Rapids near Rosa Parks Circle.

“Here was a guy who was arguably the most important public figure of the 20th century for whom there was no complete biography, and it so happens he’s a Grand Rapids kid,” Meijer said.

Vandenberg might best be known for making the jump from isolationism to internationalism during WWII.

It’s a drastic change in direction not often seen from politicians.

“He was willing to change,” Meijer said. “A lot of times we hold our politicians accountable and say ‘you used to believe this and now you say this. How dare you?’ Well, the point is, don’t we want people to change as the times change?”

“Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century” is more than 25 years in the making. Meijer said writing and the research that goes with it a happy distraction.

Meijer said he hopes readers will enjoy meeting a West Michigan man who wasn’t afraid of a little compromise.

“He viewed compromise as an art and understood that to make democracy work, you’ve got to have people on both sides of the aisle, both political parties, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and the Congress and executive branch working together,” he said.