"She had a grace and strength and wisdom beyond most."
Faith and Family : Faith & Family
Helen met Rich while walking home one day with girlfriend Adele. Rich offered the young women a ride home.
After dropping Helen off, Rich told Adele he thought Helen was “kind of cute” and asked for her phone number. Adele wrote Helen’s name and phone number in Rich’s psychology book, which has a special place in the family library.
Helen’s reaction was not initially positive. “I thought he was pretty cocky and had a gift of gab,” she shared years later with her family. “I didn’t quite understand him at first, believe me.”
But as she got to know him better, her opinion changed. “The cockiness was that he was self- assured and the gift of gab was an ability to communicate,” she recalled.
When Rich called, he invited Helen to go for a ride. She thought that meant by automobile. Instead, Rich surprised her by flying them to Muskegon and back.
The shy only child grew attracted to a man filled with the spirit of adventure, and she eventually decided he was “something special.”
On her 25th birthday, Helen got cake, ice cream, song – and an engagement ring from Rich. A year later, on February 7, 1953, they were married at Park Congregational Church in Grand Rapids. Adele served as maid of honor. Rich’s long-time friend and business partner Jay Van Andel was their best man.
After honeymooning in Key West, the newlyweds settled in Ada next to the Van Andels. At the time, Rich was making $150 a week selling Nutrilite. It was Helen who insisted that the first 10 percent of anything they earned go to the church, an example she learned from her friend Adele and instilled in her new family.
Helen moved her interests from teaching to business, assisting Rich in his fledgling enterprises with Jay. “I didn’t feel I was working with him,” she once explained. “I was learning with him.”
Rich and Helen were blessed with the births of Dick in 1955, Dan in 1958, Cheri in 1961, and Doug in 1964. All four children cherish memories of special times with their mother – but perhaps not about her homemaking skills.
Helen, Rich and their children.
“I remember in 7th grade I had a home economics class, and I had to sew a pair of pajamas,” recalls Cheri DeVos. “She did it right along with me, sewing another pair so that we could do the project together. We joked about that, and we also joked about how she was never a good cook – and I was even worse.”
To her young hungry family, Helen once served liver and onions, recalled son Dick. “The kitchen smelled wrong right away,” he observed. “We sat down, and we could all tell that our dad was not particularly happy, either. There was a bit of a delay. We all watched as he took a bite. And then he went to the kitchen cabinet and pulled down a box of Wheaties. We knew what that meant: Take one bite, and you could be done.”
Cheri can still see her mother in her parents’ bedroom, seated at a table near the window, her Bible open. “That’s where I envision her, in a quiet, personal place, in prayer.”
Helen with daughter Cheri. Cheri recalls her mother lived with strength, grace and a very present faith.
According to Cheri, her mother’s faith “was lived out very much, every single day.” It began with morning devotions and concluded with prayers in the evening. And it wasn’t unusual for Helen to carry on conversations with her Maker throughout the day.
Helen shared that bedrock with her family, teaching them Bible verses and encouraging them to spend time in prayer, in meditation, and most certainly in church on Sundays.
Helen’s favorite verse is the one destined to be inscribed near her final resting place, the reassuring words found in Philippians 4; 4-7, where we’re advised to “Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do” and instructed to not “worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.” The verse continues, “If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."
Son Dan echoed his sister’s sentiments when he described his mother as “the quiet, steady one,” and a woman for whom “the Bible was always close by, even on the boat.”
In fact, when Dan got into trouble as a youth, he could sometimes count on receiving a slip of paper from his mother bearing a Bible verse. “That verse,” he said, “spoke for her.”
Doug remembered not wanting to attend a certain play many years ago, but his mother insisting he go. “She dragged me kicking and screaming,” he said. “And I remember saying afterward, ‘Thank you so much.’”
The lesson? “Sometimes,” said Doug, “you need to be dragged places.”
Rich often told the story of when Doug struggled while a student at Purdue University. Doug admitted, “I didn’t have a particularly spectacular semester.”
It was Helen who chimed in and took charge of the situation. “I remember the telephone call,” said Doug. “She was so mad I probably could have heard her even without the telephone. She told me I was capable of more. And of course, she was right.”
She told me I was capable of more. And of course, she was right.
All four children were impressed by the changing role that befell their mother as their father grew sick and needed a heart transplant in 1997.
“That was a memorable turning point for all of us,” said Dick. “She told us that she never questioned ‘What happens if he dies?’ because my faith informs me about what that picture looks like. I’m more concerned with if he lives. Then it’s not so clear.’”
“She was a realist.”
“She told us that she never questioned ‘What happens if he dies?’ because my faith informs me about what that picture looks like."
Helen’s deep Christian values were handed down from her mother and her father, who doubled as a teacher and preacher.
“My parents lived their lives according to their beliefs and values,” Helen was known for saying. “I learned from an early age to live my life grounded in faith.”
That life with her parents was often steeped in quietude as well. Helen’s mother never learned how to drive, and the three never traveled extensively. Helen’s oldest child, Dick, remembers visiting his maternal grandparents as a kid, and learning to check any rambunctiousness at the door.
Dick and his siblings grew to understand later that “Although my mother remained a quiet lady, it was never to be confused with a lack of clear opinions, or with the power and ability to make an impact. She was quiet and contemplative in her own style, but very strong, if only evidenced by the many changes she had to make in her life.”
"Her faith was lived out every single day."
Cheri says faith guided her mother in all things, tough decisions especially: “She was a person you could go to in a crisis, and she handled many crises over the years, and that’s when she shined. When there was a problem, she had a way of giving you a rock to hang onto, so you could get through that crisis. She had a grace and strength and wisdom beyond most.”