Dick DeVos and his wife Betsy (who, incidentally is the current U.S. Education Secretary under the Trump Administration) have worked for many years fostering a culture of activism in their Grand Rapids hometown. As the heirs to two major company fortunes, they know that growing something of value means never settling for second-best. How did they get to this point? What was their genesis?
It all started in 1991, when Dick Was preparing to take over the reins as CEO of his father’s Amway Corporation. Grand Rapids was going through a rough patch back then and there was plans to put a high-priced convention center in a suburb just outside of town. DeVos and his wife knew that would be a disaster for Grand Rapids, so he immediately got on the phone and started lobbying against the idea. They took a lesson from neighboring Detroit: when the Lions and the Pistons left town for the suburbs in the 1970’s, it was the beginning of the end for Detroit’s economy. They did not want to see the same thing happen to Grand Rapids. With a lot of persistence, they avoided some serious future economic repercussions for the Beloved hometown of Grand Rapids. Simply put, Dick DeVos understands learning from the mistakes of others. When it comes to the fact that Detroit lost the economic cash cow of having the Detroit Lions and Detroit Pistons right in the city limits, Dick simply explains, “the lesson was not lost on us.”
This first experience was the impetus for Dick and Betsy DeVos to get more involved in their hometown. Through their continued perseverance, the city of Grand Rapids has an incredibly beautiful and productive skyline that does not look like that of a third world country. It looks like a bustling economic center, and that’s the way it should be. Since then, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation has given away over 138 million dollars to a number of different leadership initiatives, arts programs and policies for education reform. Finally, Dick and his wife also made the leading donation of 12.5 million dollars in order to establish a children’s hospital right there in Grand Rapids. This allows families with children struggling with a variety of medical conditions to stay right there in their community instead of having to go to the Mayo Clinic or somewhere else for care. These people are truly a jewel in our American crown.
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