Dick DeVos is known by many Michigan residents for his decade-long role as the CEO of Amway Corp., but his work for the company only provides a single perspective on his broader impact on the development of Grand Rapids. His enduring and active interest in the direction and potential of the city spurred him to get involved in critical development decisions as early as 1991. Both Dick and Betsy DeVos have had a profound impact on their entire community, helping to define the identity of the city itself.
Shortly before he began his career as CEO of the family company, DeVos made a mark on the political landscape with his vocal opposition to a proposed convention center. His objections to the location of the structure were based on similar circumstances that unfolded in nearby Detroit decades earlier. He believed that building the center too close to downtown could stifle growth, much like the Pontiac Silverdome and Palace of Auburn Hills.
The opposition campaign he initiated eventually grew into the Grand Action group, which represents business leaders from the area who want to establish direction for the city’s development. Grand Action is currently a non-profit organization with the stated mission to foster commercial growth throughout Grand Rapids. The group is considered responsible for several major local structures, including the DeVos Place Convention Center, Grand Rapids City Market and portions of the state university’s medical school campus.
The couple has also shown interest in helping their community get access to crucial healthcare services. They made a leading donation to the construction of a local children’s hospital in 2006, which was named the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to recognize their contributions. The hospital greatly reduced travel time for many Grand Rapids patients who previously had to visit neighboring cities to get comparable care.
While DeVos has certainly had a hand in shaping the city’s skyline, his legacy in Grand Rapids is not limited to construction. Between 1989 and 2015, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation reportedly gave over $130 million towards enrichment and education programs throughout the community. Contributions included sponsorship of leadership development initiatives as well as various programs emphasizing art and culture.
Quality and accessibility of education for youth has also been a primary concern for DeVos, who has made various contributions to academic causes. He has personally supported various education reforms and provides funding for numerous scholarship opportunities. This passion for better education also lead him to found an aviation charter school in the city’s international airport.
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It’s hard to deny that Dick and Betsy DeVos have both had a significant impact on the trajectory of development in Grand Rapids over the last few decades. Not all of their initiatives have proved successful, but that hasn’t stopped the couple from pushing towards their vision for the city’s future.