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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Dick Devos Contributions to Revitalization and Education

Dick Devos has a long history of charity and community improvement projects. Most recently, the family foundation he and his wife started was one of the organizations or individuals to contribute $1 million to the Kennedy Center. The Kennedy Center has accepted donations in plans for expansion, adding new pavilions, a bridge which will link the center to the riverfront, and new spaces for education, offices, dining and rehearsal. Devos’ million dollar donation, along with many other contributors of equal or even higher amounts, will set the stage for the Kennedy Center to excel in its role as an arts center.

Exceeding its original goal of $125 million, the campaign for the expansion has now raised $135.9 million and counting. Built in 1971 and welcoming approximately 3 million visitors per year, the center is a widely cherished spot for education; likely, the reason why the entire project will be able to be funded by contributions. Humanitarians out there are seeing the ways that they can help people in the community, by providing ways for our children to develop hobbies and interests that will help them to lead fuller lives.

Contributions to campaigns such as this, ones that are truly for all of the people, are what make wealthier humanitarians so important in my opinion and in the opinion of many. Devos has contributed to and founded other similar projects, particularly in the Grand Rapids area. Here he has led improvements in the downtown area and in the community’s healthcare. Such examples include a $75 million arena, a $212 million dollar convention center, and a $30 million market for the city’s downtown; alongside a heart hospital and a medical school for the area totaling $220 million together. I personally have a passion for downtown revitalization projects in any city, as I believe they are crucial for reducing crime by improving quality of life.

Since the beginning of the Dick and Betsy Devos Family Foundation, Devos and his wife have supported a magnitude of organizations that I find to have very positive impacts. This includes their own Devos Institute of Art Management, to help sustain the institutions that nourish young artists, Project Clarity and the Inner City Christian Federation, which fund for clean water and better housing, respectively, and last, the West Michigan Aviation Academy, for young pilots.


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