Dick DeVos has been a force for change in local and state politics since becoming the CEO of Amway in the early 1990s. It all began when his home city of Grand Rapids proposed the building of a sports arena to attract a major sports team.
DeVos saw pitfalls for such a downtown project after witnessing what had happened with Detroit’s Pontiac Silverdome when both the Lions and Pistons left. He took that lesson to heart and organized a group of leaders in Grand Rapids to campaign against the project. They called themselves Grand Action. The campaign succeeded, but they didn’t stop there.
Grand Action continued to advocate for projects that would revitalize Grand Rapids’s downtown skyline. Projects they helped bring to fruition included the Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Performance Hall, and the Grand Rapids City Market.
That experience gave DeVos the skills and confidence to continue a career of advocacy. He joined forces with his wife, Betsy, to weigh into the national public education debate on the side of the school voucher and charter school movements. The Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation helped create an aviation charter high school at the Grand Rapids International Airport.
Another charter school the DeVos’s helped found was called the West Michigan Aviation Academy that opened its doors to students in 2010. The academy started with an enrollment of 80 students and classrooms in a section of empty office space in the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. Now the charter school has its own building and boasts 600 students who come from the surrounding counties for a unique aviation-themed education. Demand is so high for enrollment seats that a public lottery is held each term.
Dick DeVos and his wife also created the Great Lakes Education Project, which is a political action committee dedicated to advocating for school choice. One of its victories was the successful campaign to stop a proposal in Michigan to create a commission that would have reviewed and approved new public and charter schools in the state.
The DeVos Family Foundation gave nearly $140 million between 1989 and 2015 to various programs in the fields of arts and culture, leadership, health and human services, and churches. An example of its work is its $12.5 million contribution towards the construction of a children’s hospital for the Spectrum Health System, which was named after Dick’s mother Helen DeVos.
These are just a few highlights of Dick DeVos’s record of civic service and advocacy of education reform. Learn more: http://www.newnetherlandinstitute.org/history-and-heritage/dutch_americans/richard-dick-devos-jr/