Helen DeVos, 90, a legendary West Michigan philanthropist of the arts and children’s health, whose generosity extended to Philadelphia through her family’s financial support of, and strong ties to, the National Constitution Center, died at her suburban Grand Rapids home Wednesday, Oct. 18, due to complications of a stroke. She had recently been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
Mrs. DeVos, the mother-in-law of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, and the wife of Richard DeVos, the billionaire cofounder of Amway and owner of the Orlando Magic NBA team, made a name for herself by giving cheerfully to schools, religious organizations, and charitable organizations, principally through the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.
The National Constitution Center, situated on Independence Mall and created by Congress to educate the public about the great document, was among the beneficiaries of the DeVos family’s kindness. Mrs. DeVos’ husband sits on the center’s Board of Trustees and donated $10 million to the center when it opened in 2003; their son Doug in 2012, was named the center’s executive committee chairman, while the center’s Richard and Helen DeVos Exhibit Hall is named after the couple.
“Helen brought such joy and light into the lives of her family, her community, and her country through her faith, her philanthropy, and her commitment to improving the lives of others through music, art, health, and education,” said National Constitution Center president and CEO Jeffrey Rosen.
“We at the National Constitution Center are grateful for the years of meaningful and enduring support Helen and the DeVos family have provided to the center in support of our mission of educating all citizens on the U.S. Constitution, and we send the DeVos family our sincere thoughts of concern and hope for peace during this time of grieving and sadness,” he said
“She always enjoyed giving money away,” her son Doug said in a testimonial on the family’s tribute website to Mrs. DeVos. “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.”
A statement released by Mrs. DeVos’ family read in part: “While we grieve her passing, we rejoice in her new life in heaven and are grateful for the countless ways she blessed our lives. We are comforted in knowing that she was welcomed home into the loving arms of Jesus. We will never forget her unfailing love, strength and devotion that were truly the heart of our family.”
Born Helen June Van Wesep on Feb. 24, 1927, in Grand Rapids, Mrs. DeVos was a child of the Great Depression, a time during which the only child and her parents survived on as little as $800 a year, according to her family.
After graduating from high school in 1943, Mrs. DeVos attended Calvin College, where she earned an early education degree in 1947, then taught second grade for six years in the Grand Rapids area.
She married her husband on Feb. 7, 1953, a union that produced four children: Sons Richard Jr., who is married to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; Dan; and Doug; and daughter Cheri Vander Weide.
Among Mrs. DeVos’ passions, her family said, were the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, and fostering Christian education, all of which she gave to generously.
In addition to her husband and children, Mrs. DeVos is survived by 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.