Thursday, November 02, 2017

A visit to Hy-Vee's Vredenburg History Pavilion

Ray Meyer and I were in West Des Moines Wednesday to tour the new Vredenburg History Pavilion at Hy-Vee corporate headquarters, which opened as part of the Ron Pearson Center --- the company's conference and expo venue --- during July of 2016.

There were a couple of reasons. Both Ray and I serve on the board of the Lucas County Historical Society and so we wanted to see how Hy-Vee told its story in this stunning, high-tech setting; also to get a better idea of the scope of the images and artifacts from the Hy-Vee archive that had been incorporated into it.

Frankly, our local presentation of Hy-Vee's history in Chariton, which began during the 1940s and continues, leaves much to be desired; we hope to do something about that (on a considerably more modest scale) and it seemed like a good idea to begin at the top.

So thanks to Peggy Freylack, Hy-Vee corporate librarian, for arranging the tour and taking the time to show us around.


The Vredenburg Pavilion is not a public museum, but is designed instead to engage and inform members of the corporate family from across the Midwest who utilize the 63,000-square-foot Pearson Center and members of the general public who attend expos or other events held in the 21,000-square foot conference hall.

The Pavilion, some 11,000 square feet, forms the glass-walled lobby of the Pearson Center and extends into corridors that flank the main hall.

The center replaces an earlier conference venue attached to the south side of the Hy-Vee office building, constructed during 1995 when corporate headquarters were moved from Chariton to West Des Moines.


We entered through the main doors of the L-shaped office building, greeted as has been the case for many years by a bronze likeness of Dwight Vredenburg (1914-2002), looking a little chilly without a topcoat as winter approaches.

Small bronze panels mounted on entrance front brickwork flank the front doors and tell, if you look at them carefully, the story of transition from Supply Stores and Chariton Wholesale Grocery Co. into Hy-Vee, one of the nation's largest purveyors of groceries and related products.

In a place of honor just off the lobby are photographs of the original "Hy" and "Vee" --- Charles Hyde (left) and David Vredenburg (Dwight Vredenburg's father).

The route to the Vredenburg Pavilion took us through an area of the the original office building being redeveloped to provide more office space and through the recently reconfigured and expanded corporate cafeteria.

From there, we entered the Pearson Center/Pavilion corridor that leads to the principal pavilion space and contains photographs and/or touch-screen images of 40-year Hy-Vee employees arranged by decade on the left; and a continuation of corporate history segments --- with room for expansion --- on the right.

The pavilion interior and the displays it contains were designed by Dimensional Innovations, a Kansas City firm that worked with Peggy for more than a year to determine which images and artifacts would be included and how they would be displayed.

Obviously, this is not your grandmother's museum. It relies on hundreds of images, carefully selected artifacts and the latest in digital wizardry to tell the Hy-Vee story.

The pavilion's structural columns serve multiple uses. Each contains a display case, images, digital screens and NanoLumens curved LED displays that broadcast time-staggered loops of video related to corporate history.

Displays on the south wall of the pavilion focus on corporate leadership, commencing with the Vredenburg years on the left.

A towering display of corporate awards has pride of place on the north wall of the pavilion. The touch-screen display here allows visitors to scroll through and examine more carefully the awards that are out of reach in the sleek cabinetry.

Decade-by-decade historical segments fill the west wall, then wrap around into the north corridor.

Presentations commence with the early years at Beaconsfield, Lamoni and elsewhere, continue through Centerville (note the youthful Dwight Vredenburg in the aisles of the Centerville store), then on to Chariton and beyond.

All in all, it's a dramatic and effective presentation of corporate history wrapped in cutting-edge technology. And we came away with a number of ideas for developing a far more modest telling of the story in Chariton, where much of this history has played out. You'll have to stay tuned to see how it all works out.


Unknown said...

Really interesting. Thanks for posting this, Frank!

Carolyn H said...

I enjoyed this "tour", nice seeing John Comer, Marion Coons, Dwight, of course, all the guys from the Chariton Wholesale, thanks!