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Lansing history: Rispens Seeds, a growing family business

By Marlene Cook

LANSING, Ill. (July 2, 2022) – The year was 1918. A young and restless Martin Rispens, who would reach his 18th birthday on December 3, was dreaming of what opportunities he might have in America, “the land of milk and honey.”

So he left his moder Antje, his vader Marcus, and his zuster Nellie in Morra, Holland, and boarded a ship at Rotterdam. The young Martin successfully immigrated to Kalamazoo, Michigan. He attended night school there and earned a degree in business administration. He then moved to South Holland, Illinois, to work for a cement firm. As a second job he sold Watkins Products door-to-door. At the age of 23 Rispens planted his feet in Lansing, where he continued his door-to-door sales, now selling produce.

Rispens’ college degree served him well, and he founded The Lansing Fruit Store. He advertised its location as the second building west of Lansing Bank.

The young man met and married Jennie Biesboer, and by 1928 they had a son, Marvin. A year later they had a daughter, Clara.

Rispens soon got involved in the community and was elected as a village trustee under the Business Men’s ticket. He also became active in the First Reformed Church of Lansing, now First Church PCA.

While serving on the village water board Rispens received a call from a local farmer demanding water for his wilting cabbage patch. Rispens checked it out and opened a nearby fire hydrant to flood the patch. The farmer was very happy for his saved crop, and the two men became good friends. The farmer suggested Rispens go into the seed business.

Martin Rispens with his first delivery truck, approximately 1928. (Photo provided by Layton Nauta, granddaughter of Marvin Rispens)

Rispens thought that was a good idea. He opened his vegetable seed and fertilizer business in place of the fruit store at 3332 Ridge Road in 1928. He and his wife and son lived in the little gray house behind the store. As little Marvin grew he was allowed to play on the sidewalk in front of the store. There was no yard. Marvin remembered how his mother would tie him to the stoop with a rope so he couldn’t wander away. When he was four years old he fell out of his little wagon and broke his arm.

Left: Rispens storefront located at 3332 Ridge Road, date unknown. (Photo provided by Layton Nauta, granddaughter of Marvin Rispens) Right: The same location now inhabited by Foto Shop. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma) Though much has changed along Ridge Road, the original buildings are still recognizable.

The family business progressed from a local seed store catering to local farmers and gardeners to a national distributor, selling hybrid seed and fertilizers to commercial farmers and growers in all the surrounding states reaching all points east, west, north and south. Marvin and Clara grew up in the store. When he was old enough, Marvin helped package seeds and handled sales, and he eventually became a traveling salesman.

Marvin Rispens
Marvin Rispens, son of founder Martin Rispens, shows off his choice onion seeds. (Photo provided by Layton Nauta, granddaughter of Marvin Rispens)

Marvin continued to work for his dad even after he married Frieda Schaap from Leota, Minnesota, in 1950. Frieda had come to South Holland to teach first grade at Calvin Christian School. Marvin said, “I went to first grade and fell in love with the teacher.”

Clara was secretary to her dad even after she married Eugene Kuiper. Clara died in a terrible automobile accident in June 1953 that also took the life of her seven-month-old son Eugene.

After Martin Rispens died in 1960, Marvin bought the business from his mother. Marvin and his wife Frieda had four children — Mark, Howard, Ross, and Carla — and they too lived behind the business.

A red brick warehouse and store was built between the post office and the Ridge Road storefront. Marvin rented out the original store and built a new home on State Line Avenue in Lansing for his family. Rispens owned the warehouse property for 69 years when Marvin sold it to DeYoung Furniture in 2000. The Village of Lansing bought it in 2008 for additional downtown parking space.

Left: The Rispens warehouse and store was located between the Lansing Post Office and the Rispens store on Ridge Road. (Photo provided by Layton Nauta, granddaughter of Marvin Rispens) Right: Marvin Rispens sold the building to DeYoung Furniture in 2000, and the Village bought the property in 2008 for additional downtown parking space. Today the parking serves Fox Pointe visitors. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
A view of the inside of Rispens Seeds Warehouse and Store. A Times newspaper article in 1949 claimed the Rispens warehouse to be “the center of early spring activity in a great onion district.” (Photo provided by Layton Nauta, granddaughter of Marvin Rispens)

Howard and Ross grew up in the business just as their dad had, and they became the third generation to operate Rispens Seeds. Howard started full-time in 1973 and Ross in 1976. They continued to operate their retail business — the only one of its kind in Lansing — until October 1999, when they moved the company to 1357 Dutch American Way, Beecher, Illinois. Marvin died September 27, 2021, at age 93. Howard is retired, and his son Brock is the fourth generation of the Rispens family to represent Rispens Seeds, Inc.

The Rispens boys no longer operate a retail store but concentrate on commercial farmers in the U.S. and Canada and as far as India. The company advertises, “We offer personalized advice and growing tips to all our customers, to maximize plant yield and quality. Our biggest priority is to provide farmers with high-quality and affordable seeds. We are committed to excellence in all that we do. Our team is ready to chat about seeds, crops, and more to meet your business needs and those of your customers.”

Marlene Cook
Marlene Cook
Marlene Cook is a Lansing resident who loves learning and writing about local history. A member of the Illinois Women's Press Association since 1973, she has won multiple IWPA awards. Her 2020 awards in the Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest included first place for columns and second place for nonfiction book in the history category.


  1. I love the stories and pictures of Lansing history ! Their is a lot down Ridge road. Another interesting one would be about the warehouse @ Legion Dr. And Wentworth. That big gray bulding had alot to do with seeds at one time ! I don’t know if Rispens had anything to do with that building . I believe Lansing is in the process of obtaining the building. The last person there cleaned it out and walked away from it because of taxes being to high .

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