Remembering Helen DeVos and her philanthropic impact on Grand Rapids

The legacy of Helen DeVos

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Helen DeVos, the wife of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, died Wednesday, October 18, due to complications from a stroke following a short battle against acute myeloid leukemia.

Mrs. DeVos was 90 years old.

She's being remembered for her philanthropic support of children's health, Christian education and the arts.

Helen DeVos is the namesake of the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital at Spectrum Health's downtown Grand Rapids campus. Her deep concern for children's health led to the building being named in her honor.

"She was a wonderful woman," said Rick Breon, Spectrum Health President and CEO. "She was loved by everybody here at this hospital."

When Breon began his career at Spectrum Health, the hospital was called DeVos Children's Hospital, which opened its doors in 2011. Helen's name was added after the DeVos children decided to make a generous gift.

"They wanted to honor their mother, so Helen's name was added," said Breon. "Helen would come to the hospital frequently and read to the children, so her impact was more than just financial."

The DeVos family has given away more than $1.2 billion over the years, with a majority of those donations coming from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. Near and dear to Mrs. DeVos's heart was helping the homeless, which is why she made sure both Mel Trotter and Degage Ministries (homeless shelters in downtown Grand Rapids) were receiving her assistance.

"What a life well lived," said Dennis Van Kampen, president of Mel Trotter Ministries. "Helen DeVos was an amazing gift to our community.

"As far back as our records go, both Helen and Rich DeVos have been supporters of Mel Trotter and making sure it possible for men, women and children to leave homelessness and go into a life they were created to live."

Helen DeVos made sure that a portion of her generous donation would go toward helping children who live in poverty.

"She helped create our 'Kid's Corner', which is an entire floor upstairs at Mel Trotter," said Van Kampen. "The entire space is a place where kids can just be kids, and forget about the challenges they may be facing at home.

"Children come here to play, read books and get help with their homework. 'Kid's Corner' wouldn't exist if it weren't for the gifts and vision of Helen DeVos."

Mrs. DeVos also had a deep passion for music. She served in many ways on the board of Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra since 1971. She also was a major supporter of St. Cecilia's Music Center in Grand Rapids.

"Mrs. DeVos actually served on the St. Cecilia board of directors, and was president of the board at one point," said Cathy Holbrook, executive director of St. Cecilia's. "We really did lose one of our heroes [in Helen DeVos]."

Holbrook says that St. Cecilia's would not be able to provide the level of music education its able to, if it wasn't for the support of Helen DeVos.

"All of our after school orchestras and band programs are able to touch thousands of people's lives," said Holbrook. "Her support has allowed the gift of music to be given to so many."

Helen DeVos' gifts to the Grand Rapids community have been making an impact for decades, and they will no doubt continue as part of her lasting legacy.

"We are all standing on the shoulders of the people who came before us," said Holbrook. "Helen DeVos is one of those people."

St. Cecilia's Music Center will be dedicating its "Chamber Series" -- which begins November 2--  in memory of Helen DeVos.

To learn more about Helen DeVos and the work she accomplished throughout her life, visit www.helenedevos.com.

Funeral Arrangements

There will be two days of public events to celebrate the life of Helen DeVos:

  • Public Visitation: Monday, Oct. 23 from 2-8 p.m. at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in the Ambassador Ballroom, 187 Monroe Ave., Grand Rapids
  • Celebration of Life Funeral Service Simulcast: Tuesday, Oct. 24 from 2-3:30 p.m. at the International Ballroom of the JW Marriott, 235 Louis Campau St., Grand Rapids. Seating is first come first served. After the simulcast, the reception will be held from 3:30-6:30 p.m. at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in the Ambassador Ballroom. 

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