Dick DeVos is primarily known throughout the country for his involvement in Republican politics. His wife, Betsy DeVos, is currently serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education and has been involved in Republican politics at the national level for decades. She was the chairperson of the Michigan Republican Party and has organized fundraisers and otherwise formed an integral part of that party for the majority of her adult life.
On top of that association with politics, DeVos himself ran as the 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidate in the state of Michigan. Although his campaign was highly unorthodox, with DeVos self-financing nearly his entire campaign and running on a more centrist platform, he was able to nearly unseat the wildly popular incumbent, Jennifer Granholm. Even as expert political observers predicted that DeVos would lose in a landslide, he was able to come from behind, generating one of the closest races for the governorship of Michigan that the state had ever seen.
But for all of the ways in which DeVos is associated with politics, the truth is that political activities have occupied only the smallest portion of his career. Around his home state and his hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, DeVos is far better known for his many entrepreneurial successes, educational reform activities and magnanimous philanthropy.
It is, perhaps, in the area of education where DeVos’ achievements have been greatest and his praises sung the least. Schools like the West Michigan Aviation Academy, to which the autodidactic DeVos personally contributed much of the design, curriculum and equipment, have left lasting marks on the way that public education is carried out in the United States. Another DeVos School, the Hope Academy, has also proven, like West Michigan Aviation Academy, that it is possible to take some of the most disadvantaged kids in the country out of the failing schools that are endemic to their neighborhoods and to place them in environments where they can truly excel. Many of the schools on which DeVos has labored have mostly underprivileged minorities as students. And many of these schools have shown that these kids are able to compete at the highest levels of academia, putting the lie to the idea that the public education system itself is not the root of all the failures seen in educating America’s neglected inner-city children.
Through his educational efforts, DeVos has positively transformed the lives of tens of thousands of urban kids in ways that the public education system never could have.
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