A multi-purpose Sports and Convention Arena north of downtown Grand Rapids was in the works to be built in 1991.
However, Dick DeVos was not a fan of the idea. In fact, he got on the phone and started lobbying against it. His worry was that this convention center would be bad for Grand Rapids, the same way that the construction of the Pontiac Silverdome in Palace of Auburn Hills had devastated Detroit when the Pistons and Lions ended up leaving the city. DeVos, who operated as the CEO of Amway from 1993 to 2002, believed that that was a lesson that needed to be applied in this situation.
DeVos’ campaign against the sports facility precipitated the creation of Grand Action, which was a group of leaders in business who also were a big part of the forces behind construction of several buildings in the area that play a prominent role in the Grand Rapids Skyline.
Dick and Betsy DeVos are the heirs to not one but two family fortunes. As such, they have spent a great deal of their adult lives trying to change policies and institutions. They are major donors to the GOP, and they have had quite a bit of political influence that has affected labor and education.
Betsy DeVos successfully engineer the expansion of charter schools, and Dick DeVos was behind the law that ended up converting Michigan into a right-to-work state where one does not need to be in a union in order to work.
However, this is not the extent of their influence. Between 1989 and 2015, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation is reported to have donated $138.7 million to all sorts of programs, including Human Services, arts and culture, and leadership programs. Education reform has been a large part of what they have done. According to Betsy DeVos, the reason for this is that they want kids from poor backgrounds to have the same opportunities that their own children had.
However, they have not always had public opinion on their side. In the year 2000, people voted against a Constitutional Amendment that they had sponsored for tax-funded vouchers that would allow students to attend private schools. Dick DeVos also lost a campaign for governor against Jennifer Granholm, the incumbent, in 2006. However, they did not stop trying. They just went to other parts of the country, where they were successful; now, 24 states and the District of Columbia have some type of voucher for private schools.
In fact, Betsy DeVos’ advocacy for school choice was a significant reason why President Donald Trump ended up appointing her as the US Secretary of Education, although there were many on the US Senate who did not agree with this choice.
To learn more, visit http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/.