When Dick DeVos caught wind of plans to build a multi-purpose sports and convention arena outside of Grand Rapids downtown in 1991, he fought against it. He was on his way to being Amway Corporation’s chief executive officer at the time, which gave him the ability to contact city officials and lobby against the project.
His concern was that by building this project outside of downtown Grand Rapids it would lead to a decline in economic activity and suburban sprawl. Two years later, he was the CEO of Amway. His campaign against the convention center led to Dick DeVos putting together a group of business leaders named Grand Action. The group built several buildings in downtown Grand Rapids, including the DeVos Place Convention Center, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids City Market, and the DeVos Performance Hall.
Dick DeVos is married to Betsy DeVos. Both come from families of incredible wealth. They have spent much of their adult lives pushing for changes in government policies and institutions. They are Republican mega-donors and have been behind major changes in Michigan laws that have affected labor and education.
A major cause for them is establishing charter schools. They also pushed the state legislature and governor to pass a law in 2012 that changed Michigan into a right-to-work state. People that work at companies with unions no longer have to join them.
They gave away almost $140 million between 1989 and 2015 through their Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation. Much of this went to education reform and scholarships for students attending charter schools. They also support arts and culture, churches, health and human services, and leadership initiatives.
Dick DeVos established an aviation-focused charter high school. It is located at Grand Rapids International Airport so that students are inspired by what they see happening outside the windows. There are flight simulators that students use to simulate flying a Cessna airplane. There are 600 students that travel to it from seven counties. One student commutes from 150 miles away, staying at a friend’s house Monday to Friday and the weekends at home.
Every grade at this school teaches aspects of the aviation industry. This includes pilot instruction, the history of the industry, electronics, and plane maintenance. There are two Cessna airplanes for students to fly after they have spent enough time in the simulators. Once a student completes a solo flight they get to wear a white shirt while all other students wear blue ones.
In 2000, Dick DeVos asked Michigan voters to pass a constitutional amendment that would create taxpayer-funded vouchers that students could use to attend a charter school. The voters rejected this measure. He also ran for governor in 2006 but lost against Democrat Jennifer Granholm.
The DeVos have pushed for private school vouchers in other states. 24 states plus the District of Columbia now offer some type of voucher for students to attend a charter school.
Visit http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/about to learn more.