Meibergen remembered as 'bigger than life'

Enid businessman Joseph "Lew" Lewis Meibergen died Thursday at the age of 88. (File Photo)

ENID, Okla. — Enid businessman Joseph "Lew" Lewis Meibergen was remember Thursday for his leadership in the community and the state.

He died Thursday at his home. He was 88 years old.

His roots in Enid dated back to the Cherokee Strip Land Run. Meibergen is former chairman of the board and president of Johnston Enterprises. The company was founded as W.B. Johnston Grain and Seed Co. in 1893 just after the land run by Meibergen's grandfather, W.B. Johnston.

"Lew was an icon here in Enid," said Brent Kisling, Oklahoma Department of Commerce executive director. "Really, for a lot of Oklahoma and a lot of the world, he was the face of our community. He was the face of agriculture and he was the face of family owned-business in our state."

Kisling said he enjoyed working with Meibergen when he worked for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe.

"He continues to be a voice of reason within the agriculture industry that we all depended on," Kisling said "He is going to be greatly missed."

Congressman Frank Lucas said Meibergen always will be remembered in Oklahoma for his leadership

"For nearly his entire life, he was bigger than life," Lucas said. "A leader at WBJ and in early years as Gov. (Henry) Bellmon’s first agriculture secretary. Between his involvement in the political process and his agriculture legacy, he will always be remembered for his outstanding leadership in Oklahoma’s agriculture community."

A 2017 honoree for Pillar of the Plains, Meibergen told the Enid News & Eagle he was born at Government Springs Hospital, now St. Mary's Regional Medical Center, and was raised on a farm north of town.

He said on the farm where he grew up, he and his family raised wheat and cattle. He said it was the time he spent on an International tractor as a boy that led him to knowing what he wanted to do.

"Spending three or four hours, all day long in the heat, I said, 'Boy, this isn't for me,'" he said with a laugh. "That’s what made me decide not to be farmer."

Meibergen graduated from Enid High School and attended Oklahoma State University, where he graduated in 1953 with a bachelor of science in animal science. He spent two years in the Army, deploying to Europe, before returning home to run a grain elevator in Fairview.

He ran the elevator in Fairview from 1955 until 1963, when he was appointed as Oklahoma secretary of agriculture, a position he held until 1966. He was the first-ever Republican to hold the position in the state.

"After that, I served as vice president of Liberty National Bank from about '66 to '69," he said. "Then from '69 to '76, I was First Bank of Enid president.

"And then, after that, I came up here," he said, speaking of Johnston Seed.

He credited the success of his business, which was the oldest and largest privately owned grain company in Oklahoma until it was sold to CGB Enterprises in 2014, to having good employees.

"That and we give full service," he said. "We try to treat our customers like we would like to be treated. But it’s the employees that did it, not me."

Meibergen spent four years as director of National Grain and Feed Association. He served as a commissioner of Kansas-Oklahoma-Arkansas River Association in the mid-1980s.

Meibergen served as president or chairman of Enid Rotary Club, Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce, Enid-Phillips Campaign and United Way of Enid. He's also served on the Cherokee Strip Regional Heritage Center board and the State Chamber of Oklahoma board.

The state of Oklahoma presented him with the Governor's Outstanding Achievement Award in Agriculture, and he was selected into the Oklahoma Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2012. He was inducted into the OSU Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 2011 and was named Citizen of the Year by Greater Enid Chamber of Commerce this year.

Funeral arrangements are pending with Henniger-Hinson Funeral Home.

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Rains is police and court reporter for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @cassrains.
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