A plan was hatched in 1991 to put a sports and convention arena in the northern part of Grand Rapids. This facility would be a multi-purpose use building. When Dick DeVos hear about this plan, he immediately began to lobby against it. At the time, Dick DeVos was on his way to becoming the CEO of the Amway Corporation his family owned.
Similar to Grand Rapids, Detroit built the Pontiac Silverdome and Palace of Auburn Hills as multi-sports facilities. DeVos was well aware of the damaged caused by the Lions and Pistons leaving Detroit in the 1970s.
He was fearful that the convention center would have the same adverse effect to downtown Grand Rapids as these facilities had for Detroit. The lesson was not lost on DeVos who was CEO of the Amway Corporation from 1993 to 2002.
The creation of Grand Action came from DeVos’ lobbying against this facility. Grand Action is a group of business leaders were behind a variety of different projects. These projects include Van Andel Arena, DeVos Place Convention Center, DeVos Performance Hall, and various others. These buildings changed the Grand Rapid’s skyline.
This example is only one of the ways Dick and Betsy DeVos attempt to change different policies and institutions. With the backing of two family fortunes, the DeVos are mega-donors for the GOP. This fact gives them some political influence when the state is creating laws the affect education and labor.
Both sides of this power couple have been significant driving forces. Betsy DeVos was behind the successful expansion of the charter school. Dick was the driving force behind a 2012 law that made Michigan a right-to-work state. Michigan was the birthplace of organized labor, but after this law passed, union membership was not a requirement for employment any longer.
This couple has influence outside of these conventional politics and conservative causes, however. Their family foundation has supported leadership programs, health services, churches, arts, culture, and scholarships for private schools. They have also endorsed policy that reform education. The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation gave away $138.7 million between 1989 and 2015.
When the Spectrum Health System built a $103 million children’s hospital in 2006, the DeVos donated $12.5 million towards the construction. This donation was the leading one from Grand Rapids, so the hospital was named after Dick’s mother, Helen DeVos.
This children’s hospital allowed parents the ability to stay close to their homes. It also reduced the need for these parents to have to drive to the Mayo Clinic or other places to receive the best care.
One of the DeVos’ largest initiatives has been education reform. Dick DeVos even created an aviation charter school to serve high school students at the Grand Rapids International Airport. Betsy and Dick DeVos’ primary concern was to ensure that children from low-income families had the same opportunities as the DeVos’ children.
Even though the DeVos have political and financial backing, they have not always successful in changing public opinion. In 2006, Dick DeVos ran for governor and lost.
Win or lose, Dick and Betsy are paving the way for change with education reform and other vital matters.
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