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Founder of Vermeer Corporation passes away at 90

Published on 09 April 2009

Gary Vermeer, founder and chairman emeritus of Vermeer Corporation in Pella, Iowa, died February 2 at the Comfort House of Pella. He was 90 years old.

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 their farm machinery business in 1948, after inventing a wagon hoist which made it easier to unload corn five years earlier.

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.

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, Iowa, cover 1.5 million square feet – more than 33 acres.

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.

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.

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.

Vermeer also took an active role in his church and community, and he 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.

For almost 40 years, he treated hundreds of people to these trips to Canada. While Vermeer enjoyed the flying and was an avid fisherman and hunter, his biggest enjoyment was providing a new experience for others.

In honor of Gary Vermeer and his lifetime of contributions, a website has been established.   FG