Dick DeVos got on the phone about as soon as he found out what developers wanted to do in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The plan was to build a major sports and convention center — so far, so good — in the ‘burbs.
It was that last part that was the deal-killer as far as DeVos was concerned. He’d seen what happened when major real estate development abandoned a city’s center. He had to look no farther than across the state, at Detroit, for motivation.
Downtown Detroit had been basically hollowed out when such landmark structures as Pontiac Silverdome and the Palace of Auburn Hills had drawn traffic out of the city center. That, as far as DeVos was concerned, wasn’t going to happen to his Grand Rapids.
He and his wife, Betsy, had some leverage, after all. The DeVos name had been well known in southwest Michigan since Rich DeVos, Dick’s father, put the company formerly known as Amway in the public consciousness. Today, the extended family serves as energetic business leaders, philanthropists and civic-minded doers in the region.
That’s why Dick DeVos could pick up the phone and help form Grand Action, a strong team of civic leaders who felt as he did about bringing prosperity to downtown Grand Rapids rather than gutting it through ill-conceived development.
Grand Action got things done. In addition to getting DeVos Place Convention Center brought downtown, the group also used their muscle to add the Michigan State University College of New Medicine, Grand Rapids City Market, the Van Andel Arena and other jewels to the city skyscape, making the Furniture City a showcase of mid-sized American metropolises.
On the education front, DeVos funding has resulted in the establishment of the state-of-the-art West Michigan Aviation Academy (Dick is an avid pilot) and the Education Freedom Fund. The purpose of this entity is to fund private school tuition for underprivileged area students.
It was for Betsy DeVos’s well-known passion and achievements in opening up schooling opportunities for all that she was appointed U.S. Secretary of Education in the Trump Administration.
In addition to founding West Michigan Aviation Academy, Dick DeVos moved his beloved city forward by taking a leadership position in getting an airline now part of Southwest Airlines to add air routes from the city’s Gerald R. Ford International Airport. As part of this endeavor, DeVos was able to help raise $45 million for capital improvements at the airport.
In recognition of DeVos’s flight-related accomplishments, he was appointed to the Management Advisory Council of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Dick and Betsy DeVos have both used their financial resources, their passion and leadership instincts to improve the education, healthcare, arts and culture and even the aesthetics of southwest Michigan–and to benefit the nation beyond.
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