It was officially announced that Dick and Betsy DeVos discussed their generosity at the confirmation hearings and now have a number of $139 million to go with that giving. A major part of the story has been Dick and Betsy’s support of private elementary and secondary education schools and their staunch defense of school of choice, but they’ve also given to grassroots organizations such as Action Institute and Hudson Institute. The DeVos’s have given to a number of Republican political candidates over the years, and have been active in the state’s party leadership committees, but the donations there are relatively small compared to the impact they’ve had on Grand Rapids, MI as a whole.
Dick DeVos was born in the Grand Rapids area and was raised by entrepreneurial-minded parents who also gave to organizations and individuals in need. His father was Amway cofounder and ardent supporter of former President Ford, Richard DeVos Sr. Dick often watched the business operations at Amway as a young boy and decided to work his way through the company once he completed his bachelor’s degree at Northwood University. He and his brothers were soon made vice presidents of Amway operations and began exploring sales in the Asian and Pacific markets. Dick briefly left the company for a few years to start his own company, The Windquest Group in 1989 and then run for public office to the Board of Education in 1990, but he returned as CEO in 1993 and remained there until 2002. Today he manages investments and funds local businesses and initiatives at The Windquest Group while also funding charter schools and art foundations.
Dick and Betsy’s education activities began with the support of the Children’s Scholarship Fund through their own Education Freedom Fund in the Dick & Betsy DeVos Foundation. The group primarily provided for low income students to attend private schools, but the DeVos’s also wanted more done at the state level to ease the burdens on families. They tried to get a measure passed that would allow families to receive tax credits for attending private schools but came up short. 10 years later they opened their own school and opened the doors to anyone interested in learning aviation as well as technology and liberal arts at the West Michigan Aviation Academy.
Dick DeVos ran in the 2006 gubernatorial race when he became dissatisfied with the overall direction the state of Michigan was headed, but he fell short to then incumbent Jennifer Granholm. In 2012 he and several members of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Koch Foundation brought right-to-work legislation to the table that passed and was promptly signed into law. Dick DeVos also made two contributions, one to local Grand Rapids hospitals that won the Spectrum Health Foundation Art of Giving award in 2006, and later donated to David Rubenstein’s Kennedy Center project that was named the Dick & Betsy DeVos Institute for Arts Management.