Dick Devos was afraid that the disaster that happened to Detroit may also happen to Grand Rapids if a multi-purpose sports and convention complex is built in the downtown area. When the Pistons and the Lions abandoned Detroit in the 1970s, the Auburn Hills Palace and the Pontiac Silverdome were left in ruins. He never forgot that lesson so he vehemently resisted the move to build the Grand Rapids Sports complex in 1991.
DeVos began lobbying against the construction and in so doing, started a new movement spearheaded by the Grand Action, a team of business leaders who became the developers of new structures that will redefine the skyline of Grand Rapids. Grand Action eventually was credited with the construction of the following structures:
- the DeVos Performance Hall
- the City Market of Grand Rapids
- the Van Andel Arena
- the medical school of Michigan State University and
- the DeVos Place Convention Center
At that time, DeVos was CEO of Amway Corp., which is owned by his family. Dick and Betsy, his wife, are both heirs to their family’s fortunes. They could afford to be the mavericks for change and they did so with aplomb. The two have been changing institutions and their policies during most of their married lives. They are major campaign contributors to the GOP and so have exerted their influence in the major changes of some state laws that concern labor and education.
But their activities are not confined in the political arena. They are also active in supporting charitable organizations that they found beneficial to the underprivileged. Dick and Betsy are the heads of the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundations. This foundation is reported to have given away $138.7 million to various types of programs that focus on policy initiatives for private school scholarships and educational reform, churches, human and health services, arts and culture, and leadership programs.
Dick, together with his wife, made the majority of the donations for the construction of the Spectrum Health System’s children’s hospital building in 2003. This structure was named after his mother, Helen DeVos, and wife of his father Richard DeVos, the founder of Amway. Dick’s donation was $12.5 million and the total cost of construction was $103 million. This hospital, according to Dick, has enabled parents of children patients to remain in their homes and not to take leave from work just to drive to Ann Arbor, or Chicago, or Mayo (Clinic) to receive health care. Dick is the chairman of the board at Spectrum.
Dick and Betsy are also focused on changing the status quo on education. They want the same educational opportunities that their kids have to be available to the children of poor families. This focus of Dick and Betsy on education caught the eye of President Donald Trump. Apparently, this led him to appoint Betsy as the Secretary of Education. Over a heated debate at the senate, Betsy was narrowly confirmed and is now working on policy changes that will impact the future generations of school kids in the United States.
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