Dick Devos may not be lesser known than his wife, but it wasn’t always that way. Before becoming the husband of the Secretary of Education, Devos was the CEO of his family’s Amway Company, a giant in personal selling. Before that, he got involved in his local community to try and protect it from urban sprawl and potential degradation. Devos dedicated himself early on to ensuring that Grand Rapids did not suffer the same fate as Detroit, which saw its downtown area struggle for multiple decades. With this focus in mind, he became known for taking a stand when others would not.
It started prior to Devos taking that job as the CEO of his family’s company. He was well on his way, and he was busy enough that he could have declined to get involved in local politics. He cared deeply about Grand Rapids, though, so when certain individuals proposed building an athletic complex north of downtown, he called to launch a complaint.
Devos was smart enough to diagnose what had happened in Detroit a few years prior. The Palace at Auburn Hills, where the Pistons played, and the Pontiac Superdome, where the Lions flailed, were proposed in Detroit as a means of providing fans with a better experience. In reality, they pulled people out of the downtown area and made it impossible for Detroit to see any productive growth. This led to squatters buying up all of the land in downtown and just waiting for an opportunity to sell for a profit. Empty lots festered, leaving Detroit with a reputation problem, a crime problem and a lack of economic growth. Seeing all of those results, Devos knew that a new facility north of Grand Rapids would lead to similar problems there.
With this new focus on Grand Rapids came the formation of a group called Grand Action. Devos and other business leaders led the charge to ensure that the Grand Rapids skyline was full of great attractions. The medical university for Michigan State was built there. A new arena came about. A convention center is named after Devos. Overall, the revitalization helped to ensure that Grand Rapids would have one of the most attractive downtown areas for businesses and residents alike. This has been important for preventing population loss, too. All of a sudden, breweries began popping up. Young people saw Grand Rapids as a hip place to call home.
The heirs to two different fortunes, Devos and his wife have been given the opportunity to make great change. Betsy has made her mark in educational fundraising, using her position to advocate on behalf of people who have no better options for their children. Dick has made his community his focus, pouring his time, effort and skill into developing a downtown area that is now a model for other smaller cities around the country. The two have become known for their good works and also their vision. They’ve seized on issues that matter, using privilege to leave their mark.
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