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Content Guy's Note:  When it was reported that Richard Niemann Sr. had passed away last week, I asked Michael Sansolo - who, as a longtime senior vice president at the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), spent considerable time working with Niemann - to offer some thoughts…

Richard Niemann Sr., who over a 50-year career grew his family’s company from a small operation in Quincy, IL, into a formidable regional chain of 130 stores, passed away last week.

Niemann’s story is, in many ways, so typical of many family businesses over past decades. As a grade schooler he was introduced to the business by his father and by age 12 began working at Niemann Brothers Wholesale Grocers. In his late 30s, he and his brother Ferd took over the business after the death of their father, and Rich ran it until passing the leadership onto his sons, Rich Jr. and Chris. Today the company operates stores in five states and in formats as different as limited assortment stores, full-line supermarkets, price-oriented stores, pet supply stores, hardware stores and even coffee and pizza restaurants.

I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Rich and to be friends with him and his wife, Connie, during my years at FMI.  Without exaggeration I can say that while he was a hard-charging businessman, he was also one of the nicest people you could ever encounter, always ready to greet you with a broad smile and an offer to help on any project.

Rich was involved in many FMI committees and was an incredibly active participant in the association’s lobbying efforts through fund-raising and personal visits with governmental officials. In recognition of his service, the association awarded him its highest honors for industry support. Unsurprisingly, Rich was also extremely active in (and repeatedly honored by) many local charities and business associations in Quincy and throughout Illinois.