Arts, culture a big part of Helen DeVos’ legacy

Helen DeVos died Wednesday at the age of 90

Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden
The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park. (Oct. 19, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — From a quiet place to reflect on nature’s beauty at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s Japanese Garden to the beauty and power of a piece performed by the Grand Rapids symphony, Helen DeVos was a driving force in Grand Rapids’ cultural community.

DeVos died Wednesday at the age of 90.

The Grand Rapids Symphony was more than just another cultural activity the DeVos family lent their support to, giving tens of millions of dollars over the years. It was also Helen DeVos’ passion.

“Rich DeVos was the public face, but Helen was the strong will behind all of that, I think,” longtime Grand Rapids Symphony Associate Conductor John Varineau said.

Helen DeVos was a regular at the performance hall in downtown Grand Rapids that bears the family name.

“Helen had a special place in her heart for music,” Symphony President and CEO Peter Perez said. “She played the piano as a child, and for over 40 years she supported the Grand Rapids Symphony by her love for music.”

That passion extended beyond DeVos Performance Center. At the St. Cecilia Music Center downtown, Helen DeVos helped support various programs, including a student education initiative.

“We have a school of music and they educate over a thousand children every year about music,” St. Cecilia Executive Director Cathy Holbrook said.

The Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden at Meijer Gardens, which opened in 2015, is another example of Helen DeVos’ contribution to Grand Rapids’ cultural experience.

“The Japanese Garden is a place of beauty and tranquility and peace. And she was a beautiful woman in every sense of the word,” said David Hooker, a longtime family friend of the DeVoses and president of Meijer Gardens.

The DeVos family donated $5 million to its construction and further solidified Helen DeVos’ legacy.

“She was a woman of incredible grace, incredible generosity. Touched the lives of so many, and made our world a better place,” Hooker said.

>>Photos: Remembering Helen DeVos