When Dick DeVos picks up the phone, things tend to happen. Good things for southwestern Michigan and beyond. Dick and Betsy DeVos have called for positive change — and managed that change — in such areas as education, healthcare, arts and culture, city beautification and other civic causes for decades.
The entire DeVos family — founders of Amway (now called Alticor) — have long made it their responsibility to give back through generous donations of both time and finances. For Dick DeVos, one instance of this nature that had a particularly strong impact was the series of phone calls that begat Grand Action and the positive impact that civic group would make in changing the Grand Rapids skyline for the best.
As Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids was just starting to follow the pattern of growing pains suffered by its much larger sibling city on the other side of the state. Detroit’s downtown had slowly been hollowed out by the withdrawal of landmark entities to the suburbs. For instance, the Detroit Lions’ new home, the Silverdome, had gone to Pontiac. The Palace of Auburn Hills, home of the NBA’s Pistons, the WNBA’s Shock and other Detroit teams, had got to, well, Auburn Hills.
That sort of municipal abandonment was due to happen in Grand Rapids, when a leading sports complex and multi-purpose facility got targeted to the ‘burbs.
That’s when DeVos got on the phone and called up other corporate heads, civic leaders and other local leaders. They put together an activist group known as Grand Action, and took just that: grand action to redevelop the city the right way. That sports complex stayed downtown and so did a whole lot of other landmark buildings.
These included Michigan State’s College of New Medicine, the Van Andel Arena, City Market and the DeVos Place Convention Center, among many other developments.
It’s not just the city skyline that’s improved under DeVos’s guidance and open checkbook. Through their family foundation and personal funds, Dick and Betsy have donated well over $100 million.
It was Betsy’s passion and commitment for educational advancements (and the family funding that supported that passion) that got her appointed U.S. Secretary of Education, a post she currently holds.
Locally, the DeVoses have founded the highly respected and tuition-free West Michigan Aviation Academy — one of the top-ranked schools in the region. The education-minded power couple also brought to life the Education Freedom Fund, a non-profit organization that makes a private school education available at no cost to thousands of city students who need the aid and the boost in career potential.
Supporting Sky-High Potential
DeVos is also a pilot who has, on occasion, worked his passion into his philanthropic pursuits. For instance, West Michigan Aviation Academy uses the theme as a foundation. Furthermore, DeVos was one of the prime boosters of efforts to get AirTran Airways to extend air routes from Grand Rapids’ Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
That modest victory became much larger when AirTran got bought up by Southwest Airlines. To help keep those air routes, DeVos point-guarded $45 million in upgrades to the existing airport, convincing Southwest to not only stay in in southwest Michigan but to expand its presence.
Perhaps that victory was key to DeVos getting names to the Federal Aviation Administration’s civilian Management Advisory Council.
The DeVos couple have never stopped using their wealth, their passions and their honed leadership skills for the good of communities and individuals. DeVos simply gets it done, and he’s got a whole city to prove the success of his commitment.
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