GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park President and CEO David Hooker remembers the time Fred and Lena Meijer came to check out an art exhibit.

When it came time to leave, they’d had plenty of conversations with visitors. but hadn’t seen any of the art in the exhibit.

“And they were both like, ‘Well, we made a bunch of new friends. That’s OK. We’ll see the artwork some other time,'” Hooker said. “But that engagement of people, that connection. They wanted people to experience joy using all this fancy stuff.”

It was one of many stories of Lena Meijer’s love of not just the surroundings but also of the people who visited to the Garden that bears her family’s name.

“Lena would always engage in conversation: Where are you from? How’s your family? Do you have any children?” Hooker recalled.

Lena Meijer died last week at the age of 102. Her husband Fred Meijer, the co-founder of Meijer stores, died 10 years ago.

Lena Meijer played a major role in the development of the Gardens and Sculpture Park. It all began when someone approached Fred Meijer about establishing a botanical garden in the 1980s.

“Fred, being a smart man, said, ‘I’m going to talk to Lena about this.’ They had this conversation about Lena’s love of gardens and plants and flowers and Fred’s love of sculpture,” Hooker said.

In 1995, the vision became reality.

Lena Meijer’s personal touch can be found in every corner of the 158-acre main campus just east of Grand Rapids. To her, the park was much more than just a place with the Meijer name on it. He said the Gardens would become the Meijer estate.

“They had a nice home, but a very modest home for someone like Fred and Lena and the success that they had,” Hooker said. “Their estate, their real home, is a gift to us. You talk about an act of love. It’s amazing. And they treated it that way.”

A home that, despite the hundreds of thousands of visitors it attracts each year, feels a little different these days.

“There’s a huge emptiness here with Lena being gone. She as one of the visionaries that made this place,” Hooker said.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked donations to be made to the Lena Meijer Children’s Garden at the park.