2012 – Gary Vermeer (1918-2009)

Gary J. Vermeer was the founder and chairman of Vermeer Corporation (previously known as Vermeer Manufacturing Company), located in Pella, Iowa.


He is known for his innovation and contributions to the agricultural and industrial equipment industries, and for his philanthropic efforts that touch lives locally and around the globe.

He was born on September 29, 1918, in Pella, Iowa, to Jacob and Anna; the first of four sons. Vermeer married Matilda Van Gorp on February 14, 1941 and in 1953, they set up their home on a nearby 120-acre plot of land. Their farming and business endeavors expanded throughout their marriage as they raised their family of Stanley, Mary and Robert.

In 1948, five years after he invented a mechanical wagon hoist to unload corn with more ease, Gary and a cousin first opened the doors of Vermeer Manufacturing Company. Through the years, the company grew into an international organization, spanning nearly every continent. It grew to comprise approximately 600 independently-owned industrial and agricultural equipment dealership locations worldwide.

Gary made several contributions to the agricultural industry and focused on ways of laying tile and draining farm fields. That launched Vermeer into the world of trenching products. Gary was a strong supporter of pursuing trenchless drilling methods and markets that were new to the industry. By the early 1990s, horizontal directional drilling was the company’s leading product line and is a mainstay of Vermeer equipment offerings today. Gary’s
desire to find a better and more efficient way of doing things paved the way for Vermeer to eventually enter and become a leader in a variety of markets, including environmental, underground installation, specialty excavation and others.

In 1958 Gary established the Vermeer Charitable Foundation by setting aside a portion of his company’s profits to alleviate poverty, make strides in education, emphasize health, and, as he was a devoutly religious man, spread the influence of a deeply-rooted faith. The Foundation’s reach extends throughout the world sponsoring scholarship programs, providing disaster relief, building hospitals and recreational opportunities, and championing environmental causes.

Throughout his life and thereafter, Gary Vermeer received numerous awards including the Iowa Inventor of the Year Award. He was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame, the Construction Equipment Hall of Fame, and the Iowa Inventor’s Hall of Fame.

On February 2, 2009, Gary Vermeer passed away at 90 years of age. His legacy continues through his family members, who honor his legacy by leading Vermeer in taking care of customers worldwide with better solutions.

After high school, he followed his grandfather’s recommendation to pursue civil engineering. This was accomplished at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) while working for a consulting engineering firm which specialized in the design of water and wastewater treatment plants and pipeline conveyance networks.

Tom’s undergraduate education was interrupted due to required military service during the Vietnam War. Tom served 4 years in the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). He advanced to lead aviation electrician and air crewman on helicopters which supported Operation Deepfreeze. He made cruises to the Antarctic and Arctic regions on USCG Ice Breaker Cutters.

He returned to UAB, completed the BSCE program and MBA program. He and his father formed a utility construction firm just before a national economic downturn which provided an opportunity for Tom to transition to an academic position at Mississippi State University (MSU).

After four years as an assistant professor at MSU, he moved to Purdue University where he obtained a Ph.D. in civil engineering and begin to focus on trenchless technology. In 1988, he accepted a faculty position at LA Tech with a vision to establish an industry/academic/government cooperative research center – TTC. After serving as director of TTC, he served in other academic and industry positions including as a senior advisor to the commissioner of the Department of Watershed Management for the City of Atlanta. In July 2014, he returned to TTC to serve as the director. He has established a strong program for TTC in China and recently was appointed for a 3-year adjunct professorship at the Xi’an Jiaotong University.