Hy-Vee Food Stores, Inc., Chariton

It wasn’t someone from New York or California who modernized Iowa’s grocery stores; it was a farm boy from southern Iowa.

Dwight Vredenburg was born Jan 17, 1914 on a farm near Lamoni. His father was a farmer and merchant who owned general stores in several small towns. Vredenburg got his first job at age nine, sacking beans in the back room of the store in Lamoni. After high school he enrolled in Graceland College where he earned an associate degree before going on to get his BA from the University of Iowa in 1935. He planned to be a music teacher but his father convinced him to join the family business. He managed a number of the stores in Missouri and Iowa. In 1938 fifteen Hyde & Vredenburg stores merged into one company, later renamed Hy-Vee, and Dwight was elected president. He was only 23 years old. He held the position for more than fifty years, taking a leave of absence to serve in the U. S. Coast Guard during World War II and finally retiring in 1989.

Vredenburg is credited with modernizing Iowa’s grocery stores. When he opened the chain’s first supermarket in Centerville in 1940 he also introduced the shopping cart to Iowans. He always kept the customer first, and he was known to allow individual storeowners flexibility in making decisions as long as they followed that maxim. Under his tutelage Hy-Vee grew from a handful of small town grocery stores to a 3.8 billion dollar business.

In 1983 Vredenburg told a reporter “I’m thankful that I was in the right place at the right time. There are hundreds of persons who are qualified to be business executives.”

In addition to his humility, he was known for his generosity and strong support for Iowa’s small towns. He died in March 2002.