Grand Rapids is a totally different place because of Dick DeVos, husband to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. DeVos, a heir to the Amway Corp., didn’t set out to completely change his home town. He just wanted more people to come visit the downtown area.
DeVos wasn’t fond of an idea circulating in 1991 about a sport and convention center being proposed for construction north of the city. He said past experience watching Detroit after the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Pontiac Silverdome were built showed him that could be disastrous for the downtown area, as it would move crowds out of the city to the north.
“That lesson was not lost on us,” DeVos said.
DeVos gathered business leader to form Grand Action, a group pushing for multi-use complexes built in downtown Grand Rapids. The result was a changed skyline consisting of five major construction projects including the Grand Rapids City Market, the Van Andel Area, the DeVos Place Convention Center, and the DeVos Performance Hall. The group enhanced education also with the construction of the medical school at Michigan State University.
DeVos has several passions including air flight, education and charity. His appointment last year by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao wraps up all three interested in one position. DeVos, one of seven new members, now serves in a volunteer position on the Management Advisory Council. The 13-member council offers insight for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) senior management on issues like regulations, long-range planning, policy and spending.
A pilot, DeVos worked for years to improve aviation in Michigan. He took on the mission several years ago to get more direct flights and increased air traffic at the Grand Rapids airport. His persistence changed the future of Gerald R. Ford International Airport.
DeVos stating wooing AirTran Airways to establish nonstop flights running out of the airport. A meeting and a tour yielded positive results with the airline agreeing.
However, the purchase of AirTran by Southwest Airlines almost thwarted the goals. Southwest, which previously denied community efforts to come to West Michigan, had also turned away from DeVos’ efforts to lure them to the area. After the AirTran purchase, fears ran as Southwest officials reportedly discussed canceling nonstop flights to Orlando and Baltimore.
“We told the AirTran story and then we waited. They reduced service in other communities but we were not on that list. That was a big deal,” DeVos said.
DeVos then got the news in the summer of 2013 that Southwest was actually adding flights to Baltimore, Orlando, St. Louis and Denver.
DeVos and his wife started a charter school focusing on aviation out of the airport. The West Michigan Aviation Academy was established in 2010 with 80 students. The public school now has more than 600 students.
Visit http://www.dbdvfoundation.org/about to learn more.