When a proposal to build a sports arena north of downtown Grand Rapids was made in 1991, Dick DeVos lobbied against the idea. He’d seen the problems building the Pontiac Silverdome caused in Detroit when both the Lions and Pistons left the city in the 1970s, and he didn’t want to see a repeat of that in Grand Rapids.
DeVos, who became the CEO of Amway in 1993, organized a campaign against the sports facility and formed a group of business leaders who called themselves Grand Action. Together, they became the motivating force that helped see the Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Place Convention Center, and the DeVos Performance Hall added to Grand Rapid’s skyline.
Dick and Betsy DeVos have used their family fortunes and positions in the business community to steer institutional change over the years. Their political support for the GOP has also helped bring changes to state laws in the areas of education and labor.
Close to $140 million has been given to programs for leadership training, arts and culture, health, churches, and policy initiatives by the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. One project in Grand Rapids that the Foundation helped make a reality was the contribution of $12.5 million towards the building of a children’s hospital named after Helen DeVos, who was Dick’s mother and wife of Amway’s co-founder Richard DeVos.
Education reform has also been a focus of the DeVos’s activism, supporting and founding charter schools that challenged the status quo in public schools. This included the founding of an aviation charter high school at Grand Rapids International Airport called the West Michigan Aviation Academy in 2010.
Dick DeVos, being a pilot, has taken an interest in reforming the aviation industry, playing a role in helping improve the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. He and a group of business leaders worked to bring more connecting routes to the airport from Grand Rapids, which lowered fares and increased passenger traffic.
He recently was named to the Management Advisory Board at the FAA and hopes to continue to drive reform and improvement in the nation’s aviation industry and infrastructure.
Follow Dick DeVos on Facebook for updates.