Dick DeVos is, perhaps, best known throughout the country as the 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate for the state of Michigan. Although DeVos would eventually lose to then-incumbent governor Jennifer Granholm, the race was extremely narrow. The close result showed that a political novice with the right message and virtually no mainstream support beyond his own pocketbook could take on the state’s Democratic establishment and give them a run for their considerable donor-provided money.
Although this campaign has made the name Dick DeVos synonymous with Republican politics in the minds of many Americans, the truth is that the serial entrepreneur and prolific philanthropist has dedicated only a tiny fraction of his life to politics. On the other hand, DeVos has spent decades of his life working on the solutions to some of the toughest issues facing the nation’s educational system.
DeVos has personally created a number of highly successful charter schools. Many of these have become gold standards by which all other charter schools are measured. One example is the Detroit New Urban Learning School. The charter school has proven, over the course of years, that students that hail from some of the lowest-performing populations in the nation can be brought up to par with their more privileged peers, in some cases even exceeding the academic performance of top school districts.
Another one of DeVos’ major educational successes has been the creation of the West Michigan Aviation Academy. With more than 50 percent of its student body being underprivileged minorities, the school has posted some of the top scores of any high school in the state. It has also placed a huge percentage of its student body in high-level collegiate engineering programs and flight schools across the country.
For all of these successes, though, DeVos’ largest success may be the saving of his hometown. In the early 1990s, DeVos created a group of the area’s top business leaders that he called the Grand Action Committee. The group was formed to create a large volume of strategic investment in the Downtown Grand Rapids area, which was then suffering from increasing levels of urban decay and flight from the urban center.
Within a decade, DeVos had personally invested tens of millions of dollars of his own money. One of the projects that he created was the DeVos Place convention center, one of the largest such facilities in the Midwest. Another one of DeVos’ projects was the building of the JW Marriot Hotel and Conference Center, one of the few true four-star hotels outside of the Detroit Metro Area.
DeVos was also instrumental in the creation of Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile, a stretch of state-of-the art medical facilities, hospitals and medical schools along an approximately one-mile stretch of Michigan Avenue. The Medical Mile has been credited with being one of the driving forces behind Grand Rapids’ comeback, attracting some of the world’s top specialists in such fields as pediatric medicine, cardiothoracic surgery and advanced medical research. DeVos continues to be an active agent for positive change throughout the West Michigan area.
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