Gary Vermeer, founder and chairman emeritus of Vermeer Corporation in Pella, IA, died Feb. 2, at the Comfort House of Pella. He was 90.
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. 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 Vermeer’s children, Robert Vermeer and Mary Vermeer Andringa, now serve as co-chief executive officers of the company. Three of his grandchildren also are active in the corporation.
Perhaps Gary Vermeer’s best known manufacturing contribution is the Vermeer round hay baler, an invention that revolutionized agriculture in 1971 as it turned the labor-intensive process of hay baling into a one-man operation. One of his many innovative ideas and industry-changing products over the years, Vermeer’s hay baler concept was a solution to his common theme, “there has to be a better way.”
Under Vermeer’s guidance, other products manufactured by the company include stump cutters, trenchers and tree spades, among many others. Today, the company manufacturers more than 100 product models, including a more recent line of Vermeer Navigator horizontal directional drills and products in four product segments: forage management, specialty excavation, environmental transformation and underground installation.
Born Sept. 29, 1918, in Pella, to Jacob and Anna Vermeer, Gary was raised in a farming community with strong Dutch roots. After his marriage in 1941 to Matilda Van Gorp, the couple began 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 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 college scholarship programs, building projects at Dordt, Calvin and Central colleges along with Pella Christian High School, disaster relief, aid for missions, and much more.
Vermeer also 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. Two decades later, he led another fund drive to raise $1.5 million to expand the hospital. He first obtained a pilot’s license in 1950 to save travel time when visiting customers and dealers. By the late 1960s, he was regularly ferrying people—customers, employees, friends and mere acquaintances from his church and community—to a wilderness camp in Canada.
Vermeer 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 established. Visit www.garyvermeer.com for more information.