Foundation Vice Chairman Hank Meijer captivated the audience with a discussion of his new book Arthur Vandenberg: The Man in the Middle of the American Century at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library on the campus of the University of Michigan (UofM) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The November 15, 2017 event was hosted by the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, the Bentley Historical Library, and the UofM Ford School of Public Policy.
Michael Barr, Dean of the Ford School of Public Policy, began his remarks highlighting the commitment of Grand Rapids and Hank Meijer to the legacy of Gerald R. Ford, and Meijer’s continued commitment to UofM. Recently, Hank Meijer and the Meijer Foundation championed two new initiatives at the Ford School: the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Fellowship and the new annual Vandenberg Lecture.
Mark Schlissel, the 14th President of the University of Michigan, introduced Hank Meijer and reflected on his background including that as CEO of Meijer, the national supermarket chain. Hank Meijer is an UofM alum, where he won the Hopwood Award award for his essays. Upon graduation Meijer worked as a journalist in West Michigan before joining the family business. He has also served on several UofM President’s Advisory Groups and on the Dean’s Advisory Committee for the English Department.
Terry McDonald, Director of the Bentley Historical Library, joined Hank Meijer for the Arthur Vandenberg discussion. They began their conversation on how Meijer’s previous book reflected on his grandfather Hendrik Meijer, founder of the Meijer supermarket chain, and where Hank developed his passion for writing.
McDonald also read aloud an advanced book review on the biography by the National Review. The review noted that the book “is a first class political biography, enthralling, a page-turner…..Meijer ought to quit business and do this (writing) full-time.”
Hank Meijer provided a detailed background on Arthur Vandenberg’s life, including that as a great compromiser and political-power wielder. Meijer touched on Vandenberg’s high school graduation in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1900. He won an oratorical prize for “The Peace Conference of The Hague in 1899”, showcasing his early passion of international relations.
Vandenberg’s first job was at a biscuit factory in Grand Rapids. Meijer recalled that during the 1900 Presidential Campaign, Vandenberg left work to go see a parade that included Vice President Teddy Roosevelt campaigning for President William McKinley in Grand Rapids. When he arrived back at work he was fired for leaving, though he was inspired to then seek employment as a reporter at the Grand Rapids Herald. He became a prolific reporter and became the editor of the newspaper before he turned 22.
Vandenberg began writing editorials that became part of the national debate, including writing foreign policy speeches for the 1920 Republican Presidential Candidate, U.S. Senator Warren Harding. After World War I, he strongly believed and advocated for staying out of international alliances that would result in European wars.
Vandenberg was appointed to the U.S. Senate on March 31,1928 to fill the vacancy following the death of U.S. Senator Woodbridge Nathan Ferris. He was elected to the seat in November 1928 and served in the Senate until his passing in 1951. He was selected to sit on the foreign relations committee, where he lead the isolationism rhetoric of that time.
During the outbreak of World War II, he continued to fight against U.S. involvement and assistance, including the Lend Lease program, until the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. As WWII continued, Vandenberg lead a delegation of 49 elected Republican officials from across the country to support the establishment of a post-war international organization, while President Roosevelt remained silent on that policy issue. His policy statements would be part of the Yalta Conference discussion in February 1945.
In May 1945, during the United Nations Conference on International Organization, President Harry Truman asked Vandenberg to join the delegation in San Francisco, California. There, he worked to negotiate the decisions on the founding charter of the United Nations.
Meijer also highlighted numerous other points during Vandenberg’s life including his: working directly with George Marshall on his plan for European redevelopment; creating the Vandenberg Resolution which allows for U.S. participation in NATO; fighting for NATO funding; and his fighting with Franklin D. Roosevelt.