Dick DeVos: Grand Rapids Philanthropist and Reformer

The DeVos name is an institution in Michigan, especially in the Grand Rapids area where Dick DeVos, son of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos was born. Even when he was young, DeVos was involved in the family business and eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Northwood University. It did not take long for DeVos to begin a business and philanthropic career that has had an enormous impact on his home state.


As early as 1991, he opposed a proposal in Grand Rapids to build a multiple sport/convention center in Grand Rapids. He cited that the construction of the Pontiac Silverdome and the Palace of Auburn Hills, which housed the Detroit Lions and Pistons for a time, ultimately hurt the city when those teams left in the 1970s. This opposition eventually led to the formation of Grand Action, comprised of business leaders whose goal was to promote the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids and stem the tide of suburban sprawl in the city. The non-profit organization is credited with helping build the Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place Convention Center, DeVos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids City Market and the medical school at Michigan State University.


Over time, Dick DeVos started to dip his toe into political waters and ran for governor of Michigan in 2006. Ultimately he lost to Jennifer Granholm, but together with wife Betsy DeVos, the family continued to build political influence by becoming GOP mega-donors and continuing to try and garner public support for their philosophies. In 2012, DeVos co-wrote a bill that would become known as the right-to-work law. This prohibited unions from forcing non-members to join against their wishes. He believed that unions had become corrupt, and were more concerned with lining their pockets than fighting for workers’ rights.


Philanthropy and education reform, which the DeVos family believe should go hand in hand, increased over the years. From 1989 to 2015, the DeVos Family Foundation donated $138.7 million to leadership programs, the arts, health and human services, churches as well as private school scholarships and education reform initiatives. Dick DeVos, a self-proclaimed aviation “geek” founded an aviation charter school at the Grand Rapids International Airport. He was also instrumental in helping attract more major airlines to the airport, such as Southwest.


Today, Dick DeVos continues his philanthropic works while his wife Betsy serves as U.S. Secretary of Education, hoping to roll out their school voucher system to even more states. They continue to share a passion for education reform and hope to ensure that all children have access to a quality education.


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