"She always enjoyed giving money away. It was a joy for her, to see the difference it could make."
Giving for a Better Tomorrow:
From the start of their life together, Helen and Rich made a commitment to give - in the beginning, to tithe 10 percent to the church.
They never would have guessed that their commitment would grow to change the future – and skyline – of their hometown of Grand Rapids.
“She always enjoyed giving money away,” said son Dan. “It was a joy for her, to see the difference it could make. And she wasn’t one for giving it away and then walking away. She was always engaged.”
Helen's giving had its roots in her upbringing by parents George and Wilma Van Wesep, for whom Hope College dedicated its Miller Center. Educators who raised Helen in a home filled with love, Christian values, and music, they created the foundation for Helen's passions and giving years later.
Her example inspired her children to surprise Helen with major gifts to the state-of-the-art medical center that now bears her name, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. While touched by their generosity, Helen was reluctant to see her name on the building. In the end, “she accepted the honor graciously,” said grandson Dalton DeVos, “and became one of the facility’s most ardent supporters and advocates.” Helen was personally involved with the hospital's Child Life Program, even taking her grandchildren there every Christmas.
In all her philanthropic efforts, two things guided Helen – a love of Christ, and a hand-me-down saying from her mother: “When a job is once begun, never leave it ‘till it’s done. Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.”
She always enjoyed giving money away. It was a joy for her, to see the difference it could make.
Motivated by that idea to not only give but serve, Helen and Rich generously devoted their time and talents to innumerable concerns, and bestowed millions of dollars on deserving projects, principally through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.
Their benevolence has supported music, the arts, education, health care, churches, food banks, guilds, service clubs and more.
Helen's passion projects were the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital and fostering Christian education.
Helen at the piano at the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra. A lifelong music lover, she began playing the piano for her parents as a young girl and later brought music to thousands through her support of the symphony.
As a result, the DeVos name is attached to the symphony's quartet and Artist in Residence program, reflecting just one of the many ways Helen supported her beloved symphony, as well as the St. Cecilia Music Society and the League of the American Orchestras in New York City.
Helen encouraged Christian education through gifts to Grand Rapids Christian Schools, Calvin College and Lee University in Cleveland Tenn., which named their college of education after her. Helen was a long-time supporter of Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico, which helps Native American students grow intellectually and spiritually, and Zuni Christian Mission School, which provides education to children in the Zuni tribe in New Mexico.
Helen's and my philanthropy through our foundation is a gesture of 'I believe in you.'
Her civic and community involvement ran deep, influencing everything from the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign to Calvin College to schools elsewhere in Michigan, New Mexico and Zambia.
Helen and Rich’s impact extended to their adopted home of Orlando, Florida, through the DeVos-family owned Orlando Magic NBA team and the Orlando Magic Youth Fund, which has given generously to programs improving the education and health of children in the city.
Helen’s many awards include the Gold Baton Award from the League of American Orchestras in 2012, the 1991 and 2007 BRAVO! Lifetime Achievement Awards from the GR Symphony; a Women of Distinction award from Palm Beach Atlantic University; and a Trustees’ Award for Distinguished Service from the Intercollegiate Studies institute.
She also received the American Red Cross Circle of Humanitarians Award in 2005 and a Distinguished Women’s Award from Northwood University in 1993. The DeVoses were co-recipients of the Hillman Award from the Alliance for Health in 2012; Clare Booth Luce Award from the Heritage Foundation in 2010; the Distinguished Citizens Award from the Gerald R. Ford Boy Scouts Council in 2003; and the Grand Rapids Arts Council Award in 1978.
Helen was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from The Kings College in 2013, an honorary Doctor of Arts from Grand Valley State University in 2010 and an honorary Doctor in Humanities from Northern Michigan University in 1998.
She was a member of LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, where she served on several committees.