Dick and Betsy DeVos may be most well known for their conservative politics, but there is far more to them than meets the eye. Dick DeVos is the scion of the Amway corporation, one of the nation’s first wildly successful multi-level marketing businesses. In fact, DeVos served as Amway’s CEO from 1993 to 2002 before leaving to start and head his own firm. A long-time pilot, DeVos was also recently tapped for a position on the top civilian panel overseeing the Federal Aviation Administration. His wife, of course, is the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Long before the DeVoses were active in national politics, however, they made a name for themselves in Michigan politics. In 1991, when an idea was floated to build a multi-purpose sports arena and convention center north of downtown Grand Rapids, Dick DeVos became a loud and outspoken opponent of the idea. DeVos’ concerns were largely based on the success (or lack thereof) that similar projects had had in Detroit, such as the Pontiac Silverdome and the Palace of Auburn Hills.
DeVos’ political activism in Michigan led to the establishment of a group of business leaders that became the driving force behind some of the largest projects in Grand Rapids. The group was was known as Grand Action and their successful construction projects including the Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Performance Hall, the Grand Rapids City Market, the DeVos Place Convention Center and Michigan State University’s medical school
While his wife focused her efforts on school reform, Dick DeVos used his considerable sway to change the Grand Rapids skyline as well as lobbying for legislation that transformed the birthplace of organized labor into a right-to-work state. The DeVos’ don’t just lobby for change, however, they also actively invest in it. Between 1989 and 2015, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation reportedly contributed $138.7 million to a number of different organizations and charities. These included leadership programs, artistic and cultural endeavors, churches and religious institutions and a range of institutions dedicated to health and human services. Among other things, they were the leading contributors towards the $103 million construction of a children’s hospital named after Dick’s mother, Helen DeVos.
Dick has also participated with his wife Betsy in a number of education reform initiatives, including the founding of an aviation charter high school at the Grand Rapids International Airport.
While the DeVos’ have often come under heavy fire for their consistent support of charter schools, they are united in their desire to see children from poorer families have the same opportunities that they and their children enjoy.
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