Co-Chairman and CEO of Meijer Supermarkets, Class of '73
What do you do for a living?
I work as chair of our family retail business, with a sideline in biography, which draws directly upon the wide-ranging reading of an English major.
Why did you become and English major?
When I arrived at Michigan in 1971 I thought first I might be a history major. I also flirted briefly with journalism. I left the former behind after a giant lecture class. The latter was a vocational interest, but lacked the depth of what the English Department offered. It quickly became apparent that for me the English program was like no other. Decades later, I still can’t imagine following a different path.
Who were some of your most memorable professors in the English department?
I studied with three professors for two or more classes, so they particularly stand out. Alexander Allison was a neo-classicist and an editor of the Norton Anthology of Poetry. He was a meticulous and exuberant student of the Eighteenth Century. Radcliffe Squires was a poet and professor of creative writing, a keen observer and patient critic. Leo McNamara was my honors program tutor, as well as a Chaucer scholar. Each one had great regard for their students. The latter two welcomed me to their homes. With Professor McNamara I shared an interest in his Harvard classmate, John Updike. He was a thoughtful guide for my thesis, and with him I read Hamlet and The Centaur.
How has a literary education contributed to success in your career and/or other aspects of your life?
Working in a regional retail business, I find that my experience as an English major is not necessarily called upon as such. But that experience is as good a core for a liberal education as I can imagine, and it is that education that helps me understand the context for challenges and decisions we face. After Michigan I worked in the newspaper business for a few years, using my language skills every day. At a practical level today, I still appreciate the chance to write and revise corporate materials, to apply my voice, rather than rely on others to create that voice.
What’s one of your favorite pieces of literature?
Probably the Canterbury Tales, for the range of human experience, the wit and bathos. Chaucer creates a grand and lively world in a small company embarked on a great adventure.