Betsy and Dick Devos have had a tremendous impact in the state of Michigan and abroad as it relates to education and philanthropy. Betsy and Dick Devos are heirs to multiple family fortunes and have stopped at nothing to pay it forward. They are GOP mega-donors with great political influence. They also served as catalysts for major change in Michigan.
The Devos’ pet projects have always related to labor and education. They are most known for their influence in Republican politics. They are also well-known for their work on and support of conservative causes. The Dick & Betsy Devos Family Foundation (1989-2015) donated a reported $138.7 million to various leadership programs, churches, health and human services, arts and culture, and policy initiatives to aid in education reform and provision of scholarships to private schools. The couple also contributed $12.5 million to the construction of a $103 million children’s hospital named after Dick Devos’ mother Helen Devos.
The Devos’ philanthropy has not always been warmly received. In 2000, the Devos sponsored a constitutional amendment that would create tax-funded vouchers allowing students to attend private education. This gesture was rejected by the voters. In 2006 Dick Devos campaigned for governor against Jennifer Granholm, the then incumbent. The voters rejected this move also. Despite these setbacks, the Devos continued on with much success.
Betsy Devos has consistently pushed for the expansion of charter schools. President Donald Trump noticed her efforts and appointed Betsy Devos as United States Secretary of Education. Trump found Betsy’s advocacy for the choice program persuasive in his decision to appoint. However, a debate then ensued over the appointment, school choice programs, and traditional public school systems. Nevertheless, she was confirmed by the United States Senate.
Dick Devos engineered a 2012 law converting Michigan from its original status as an organized labor state to a right-to-work state. However, Dick Devos’ efforts in Michigan started many years prior. Dick Devos was working in Amway Corp, his family’s company, and on the track to be CEO, when he heard about the 199l planned construction of a multi-purpose sports and convention arena. He straightaway began lobbying against it over the phone (http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/interview_with_betsy_devos). You see Dick Devos was very familiar with the devastation that could result from this plan as he reflected on the aftermath seen in Detroit when the Lions and Pistons left Detroit in the 70s. Dick Devos has always advocated healthy change in Michigan.
Dick Devos campaigning against that arena led to the formation of Grand Action. Grand Action was composed of a group of business leaders who were behind many constructions. These prominent constructions were Michigan State University Medical School, Devos Performance Hall, Grand Rapids City Market, Van Andel Arena, and the Devos Place Convention Center. This reportedly changed the Grand Rapids skyline. He also raised $130 million dollars for the Grand Action. Dick Devos also pioneered the West Michigan Aviation Academy where students attend tuition free. He is currently appointed to the prestigious Federal Aviation Administration’s Management Advisory Council.