Dick Devos is not as well-known to most Americans as his wife Betsy, President Trump’s Secretary of Education. The billionaire entrepreneur, philanthropist and pilot has, however, been a major force for many years in his home state of Michigan. His dedication and enthusiastic support of the causes he believes in has been extremely influential.
Devos grew up in Grand Rapids as the heir to the Amway fortune. Although his father, Amway’s founder Richard Devos, could have certainly sent him to an elite private school, Devos graduated from the Forest Hills public schools. Throughout his adult life, Devos has been committed to improving public schools for all children.
Saving Downtown Grand Rapids
In 1991, he learned of a plan to locate a planned multi-purpose sports and convention arena north of downtown Grand Rapids. He worried the planned location would prove as disastrous for Grand Rapids as building the Pontiac Silverdome and Palace of Auburn Hills had been for Detroit. The loss of the Lions and Pistons in the 1970s had had severe repercussions for Detroit’s economy.
A man of action, Devos hit the phones to lobby against the plan. His campaign against the proposed location of the new sports arena resulted in the formation of Grand Action, a group composed of business leaders. This influential group transformed Grand Rapids, becoming the prime movers behind such important destinations as the Van Andel Arena, the Grand Rapids City Market, the DeVos Performance Hall and more. Grand Rapids was able to create a dynamic downtown, saving it from becoming a tired, dirty victim of suburban sprawl.
Political Influence and Philanthropy
Both Dick and Betsy DeVos are long-time supporters of conservative causes, becoming GOP mega-donors. The political influence gained by their status has had a ripple effect in Michigan education and labor laws. In 2012, DeVos was instrumental in converting Michigan into a right-to-work state. This was a monumental change for Michigan, firmly controlled by organized labor for many years.
As philanthropists, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation is credited with giving over $138 million to support a wide range of causes. In 2006, they made a significant donation to a $103 million children’s hospital named for Dick’s mother.
An Aviation Geek
DeVos describes himself as an “aviation geek and pilot.” He was instrumental in growing Gerald R. Ford International Airport in Grand Rapids. Thanks to his work, both Air Tran and then Southwest now fly nonstop flights from the airport.
With his wife, DeVos was instrumental in the creation of the West Michigan Aviation Academy, a unique nonprofit charter school encouraging aviation careers. In 2017, DeVos’ longtime love of aviation was recognized by President Trump with an appointment to the civilian panel overseeing the FAA.
DeVos is currently president of Windquest Group, an investment firm focusing on manufacturing and technology, particularly economically viable alternative energy projects. In addition to his political, business and philanthropical activities, he spends a lot of time flying back and forth from Washington to spend time with Betsy.
Visit http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/about to learn more.