Helen J. DeVos
Helen enters the world
Helen June Van Wesep is born February 24, 1927, on Alexander Street SE in Grand Rapids to school teacher parents George and Wilma Burggraaff Van Wesep. She will be their one and only child.
Helen’s family moves “Up North”
As a young teen, Helen and her parents move north to Frankfurt, Michigan, where Helen was swept away by both the grandeur of Lake Michigan and the comforts of a small town measuring fewer than two square miles with a population numbered fewer than 1,700 at the time.
Helen graduates from high school
In 1943, Helen graduates from Frankfort High and starts attending Calvin College in Grand Rapids. She begins to forge friendships that will last throughout her lifetime, later forming her long standing potluck group.
Helen and Rich meet
Helen meets her future husband, Richard M. DeVos, when he spots her and her best friend walking home from school and offers them a ride. After dropping Helen off, Rich tells her friend he thinks Helen is “kind of cute” and asks for her phone number. The couple were married for more than 60 years.
Helen graduates from Calvin College
In 1947 Helen earns an early education degree from Calvin College and begins teaching second grade at Madison School in Grand Rapids, a profession she will enjoy for nearly six years.
Helen and Rich marry
Rich and Helen marry on February 7, 1953, at Park Congregational Church in Grand Rapids. From the very beginning Helen insists that they commit to tithing—giving 10 percent of all income to their church and eventually other causes near to their hearts. It was the beginning of a philanthropic legacy that would change lives across the world.
Helen supports the family business
Helen leaves her teaching job soon after marrying to begin working alongside Rich, who with his friend and business partner, Jay Van Andel, was just six years away from launching Amway from the basements of their homes. “I didn’t feel I was working with him,” she once explained. “I was learning with him.”
Rich and Helen start a family
Helen and Rich welcome their first child, Dick, in 1955. He was joined by Dan in 1958, Cheri in 1961 and Doug in 1964. Helen becomes the anchor of the family. Rich often described Helen’s role as ensuring the family kept its spiritual footing and stayed on the right path.
Helen begins serving on the board of the Grand Rapids Symphony
Helen served as an active member of the Grand Rapids Symphony board for nearly 20 years. “She believed the great community of Grand Rapids needed and deserved a great orchestra,” Symphony CEO Peter Perez said. “Her inspiration and support made it possible for a fine community orchestra to grow into a world-class professional ensemble and the second-largest performing arts organization in Michigan.”
Helen and Rich adopt Orlando as a second home
Helen and Rich cement their relationship with their Florida community with the family’s purchase of the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team. Their role as caretakers of the franchise opens many doors for philanthropy, including through the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation and the Richard & Helen DeVos Community Enrichment Award.
Crews break ground on Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital
Helen’s examples of generosity inspires her children to donate major gifts for the construction of a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in her name and construction begins in the fall of 2006. Helen reluctantly allowed the hospital to bear her name and it was dedicated on January 11, 2011. She becomes one of the facility’s most ardent supporters and volunteers.
Helen receives the Bravo! Lifetime Achievement Award
In 2007, the Grand Rapids Symphony presents Helen with its first BRAVO! Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala dinner and benefit concert in DeVos Performance Hall that also raised more than $25,000 for the orchestra’s educational programs. “I’m not sure I merit all that,” Helen said at the time.
Helen conducts the Boston Pops
During the Amway Center Grand Opening Gala held to celebrate the new home of the Orlando Magic, Helen embraces her inner conductor and takes the baton from Keith Lockhart to lead the Boston Pops as part of the evening’s entertainment. The charity event, which also featured Grammy Award-winning singer James Taylor, raised $300,000 for the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.
Helen wins the Golden Baton Award for distinguished service
The League of American Orchestras honors Helen with Golden Baton Award at its annual convention in Dallas. Helen served on the League’s board from 1982 to 1992 before continuing as an honorary board member. She and Rich are major financial supporters of the League over the years, seeing it as another way to support the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra and music as a whole. “We both found that it takes a whole community, not just the music lovers in it, to keep the music playing,” she says in her acceptance speech.
Helen DeVos passes away
Helen DeVos passes away on October 18, 2017, at age 90. In her final moments, Rich takes her hand and bows his head, asking God to take her home. He prays her into heaven.