Some call him a savior of downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan. Others praise his acumen in the realms of business, education and community affairs. Still others marvel at his ability to use his vision and influence to help transform his home town into a highly revered cultural destination. Without a doubt, Dick DeVos stands out as one of the most prominent and admired figures in the history of Grand Rapids.
One pivotal moment in his relationship with the city of Grand Rapids came in the early 1990s, when DeVos happened to notice a plan that called for the construction of a convention and sports arena complex north of the downtown region.
Although it was merely an abstract plan at the time, DeVos knew it was time to spring into action. In his view, building the arena outside of the downtown area would be harmful to the overall health of the city. In fact, he compared it to the big hit Detroit suffered when the NBA’s Pistons and the NFL’s Lions moved from the city center to the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Pontiac Silverdome.
A much better course of action, DeVos believed, would entail building the new facility in the heart of the business district of Grand Rapids. DeVos, who served as the chief executive officer of Amway from 1993 through 2002, responding by launching an intense lobbying effort to revitalize downtown Grand Rapids. His campaign ultimately resulted in the construction of numerous major projects in the city, including Michigan State University’s medical school, the DeVos Place Convention Center, the Grand Rapids City Market, the DeVos Performance Hall, and Van Andel Arena.
In retrospect, the efforts of DeVos and his wife, Betsy DeVos, were instrumental in forever altering the skyline of Grand Rapids for the better. Instead of falling victim to suburban sprawl like so many other American cities, Grand Rapids has fostered a vibrant downtown area marked by innovation, growth and myriad cultural attractions.
In addition to wielding their considerable influence in the arenas of politics, education reform and labor relations, Dick and Betsy DeVos have established an extraordinary reputation in the world of philanthropy. For instance, the couple’s foundation donated nearly $140 million to organizations devoted to the arts, education, leadership, public policy and other worthy endeavors. The couple’s donation of more than $12 million spearheaded the creation of a new children’s hospital within the Spectrum Health System. The hospital was named after Helen DeVos, Dick’s mother.
DeVos has build a successful career that would be the envy of any business leader. In addition to serving as the CEO of Amway, DeVos made a valiant run for governor of Michigan, ultimately falling short against incumbent Jennifer Granholm. An enthusiast of aviation as well as education, DeVos founded the West Michigan Aviation Academy, an innovative public high school in western Michigan dedicated to teaching students interested in pursuing careers in aviation. It serves more than 600 students.
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