Gary J. Vermeer was born on September 29, 1918, near Pella, Iowa. He was the first of four sons that were born to Jacob (J G) and Anna Elsie Haven Vermeer and was baptized Gerrit John Vermeer, after his grandfather, at the First Christian Reformed Church in Pella. Gary, and his three brothers: Elmer H., John H. and Harry G., grew up on the family farm east of Pella, which is now the Pella Nursery Company. He began his formal education at the Plainview Country Grade School near their family farm home and was raised in a farming community with strong Dutch roots. Gary graduated from Pella Public High School with the Class of 1935. On February 14, 1941, he was united in marriage with Matilda Van Gorp, daughter of John M. and Minnie Blom Van Gorp, at her parent’s farm home east of Pella. Gary and Matilda started their lives together with 120 acres of land on a farm, given by his parents. On this land in 1953, they built a modest home which remained their home throughout their married lifetime. To this union three children were born: Stanley James, Robert Lee and Mary Ann.
In 1948, Gary and his cousin, Ralph Vermeer, started in business together five years after inventing a wagon hoist, which made it easier to unload corn. The demand for this labor-saving device and Gary’s ingenuity prompted him to open Vermeer Manufacturing Company. In 1950, his brother, Harry Vermeer, joined the company and became the treasurer. From that small operation, the company has grown to an international organization that manufactures agricultural, construction, environmental and industrial equipment. Perhaps Gary’s best known manufacturing contribution is the Vermeer round hay baler, an invention that revolutionized agriculture in 1971. It was one of his many innovative ideas and industry-changing products that emerged from his common theme, “there has to be a better way”. Gary operated the company, formed the pattern of his decision making and the cornerstone of present and future actions in a way that demonstrated the importance he placed on the 4P’s of Philosophy: Principles, strong Biblical principles; People, employees that are self-motivated, learn through experience and share in the profits; Product, if there is a need for something you build it with a product that lasts; and Profit, maintaining a position of financial strength. Under Gary’s guidance, other products manufactured by the company include stump cutters, trenchers, tree spades, horizontal directional drills and many other items in its product segments: forage management, specialty excavation, environmental transformation and underground installation.
His son, Stan, served as President of the company from 1982 until 1986. His other two children, Bob Vermeer and Mary Vermeer Andringa, currently serve as co-CEO’s of the company. Throughout the years, Gary and Matilda Vermeer continued to enjoy their farmland. As recently as spring of 2007, Gary took time out of his schedule to climb on the cultivator, planter or combine. Gary first obtained a pilot’s license in 1950 to save travel time visiting customers and dealers. By the late 1960’s, he was regularly flying customers, employees, friends and mere acquaintances from his church and community to a wilderness camp in Canada. While Gary enjoyed flying and was an avid fisherman and hunter, his greatest enjoyment was providing a new experience to someone for the first time. He, too, appreciated new experiences as he and his wife, Matilda, enjoyed traveling for the challenges offered rather than any luxuries enjoyed.
In addition to Gary’s notable contributions to manufacturing, he was well known for his philanthropy. In 1958, the company started a foundation. Over the years, the Vermeer Charitable Foundation has made significant contributions to many projects, both locally and worldwide. From the beginning, the Foundation was established to relieve poverty, advance education, promote health and extend the influence of religion. Gary took an active role in his community and led a drive that raised money to build the Pella Community Hospital. Gary also supported many college scholarship programs and building projects at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Central College and the Pella Christian Schools in Pella, Iowa, as well as disaster relief, aid for missions and much, much more. He took an active role in his church and made innumerable contributions to the church universal. Gary was a charter member of the Calvary Christian Reformed Church and the Faith Christian Reformed Church in Pella where he had served as an Elder. He had also served as a youth leader at the First Christian Reformed Church and Calvary Christian Reformed Church. Gary 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.
Gary Vermeer, Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Vermeer Corporation, an icon in local communities and the industry, passed away Monday morning, February 2, 2009, at the Hospice of Pella Comfort House in Pella at the age of 90 years. Gary will be remembered for his innovations, love of the outdoors, many valued commitments and dedication to his family.
They are his genuine, unassuming wife, Matilda; their three children, Stanley J. Vermeer and his wife Alma Lee (Verdon) of Pella, Robert L. Vermeer and his wife, Lois (De Jong) of Pella and Mary A. and her husband Dale Andringa of Mitchellville and their spouses, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
His family includes his brother, John H. Vermeer and his wife, Effie, his two sisters-in-law: Jeannette (Elmer H.) Vermeer and Bernice (Harry G.) Vermeer; and the following brother-in-law and sisters-in-law: John and Dorothy Van Gorp, Jr., Evelena (Van Gorp) Roozeboom, and Edith (Edward) Van Gorp all of Pella, Iowa. Gary was preceded in death by his parents, J G. and Anna Vermeer; his parents-in-law, John M. and Minnie Van Gorp; a daughter-in-law, Margaret (De Boer) Vermeer; a great-grandson, Jakob Daniel Vanden Bosch; two brothers: Elmer H. (Dutch) Vermeer and Harry G. Vermeer; a sister-in-law and her husband, Gertrude (Van Gorp) and Everett Meinders and two brothers-in-law: Edward Van Gorp and Arie Roozeboom. In spite of his success, Gary exemplified an unshakeable faith and lived for the glory of God.
Memorials may be designated for the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, Hospice of Pella Comfort House or the Pella Christian Schools in Pella.