West Michigan philanthropist Helen DeVos dies at 90

Namesake of Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids

Helen DeVos
A photo of Helen DeVos, taken by her grandson, Rick DeVos earlier in October 2017.


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Helen DeVos, the wife of a West Michigan business giant and the woman who helped give Grand Rapids one of the nation’s premier children’s hospitals, has died at the age of 90.

Her family said she died Wednesday of complications from a stroke following a recent diagnosis of myeloid leukemia.

She leaves behind her husband, Amway co-founder and Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos; their four children; 16 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“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,” the DeVos family said in a statement released early Thursday. “We will never forget her unfailing love, strength and devotion that were truly the heart of our family.”

Formerly Helen Van Wesep, she was born Feb. 24, 1927. She attended Frankfort High School near Traverse City before moving to Grand Rapids, where she graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

She married Rich DeVos in 1953 and the pair raised three sons and a daughter, all of whom became involved in the operation of Amway.

Helen DeVos was known as a lover of the arts. She was a devoted patron of the Grand Rapids Symphony, joining its board of directors in 1972 as a lifetime member and supporting the organization through various fundraising efforts. She also served on the board of directors for the St. Cecilia Music Center.

She and her husband gave to countless charities and organizations.

But her name is perhaps most recognizable because it adorns Grand Rapids’ children’s hospital.

In 1993, the DeVos family donated $5 million to help open the Helen DeVos Women and Children’s Medical Center, part of Butterworth Hospital. Twelve years later, the couple unveiled plans for a new, stand-alone children’s hospital.

“I’m really proud and as well as really humbled to have my name on this hospital,” Helen DeVos said in 2005 when the hospital was announced. “The care has always been the best. I don’t know how you make the best better, but I’m going to stick around and find out and I hope you do, too.”

Costing $286 million, the 14-floor, state-of-the-art Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital opened its doors to patients in January 2011. It’s one of the nation’s leading hospitals focusing on the health of children and was a point of pride for DeVos.

“(Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital) is such a beautiful manifestation of the heart she had for children and her community,” her grandson Rick DeVos tweeted Thursday morning.

“I love it,” Helen DeVos said after it opened. “I love the colors, I love all the children’ art throughout. I love it. I just think this is a happy place, and that was one of the visions that this would look to be a happy place as well as actually be one.”

A makeshift memorial to DeVos grew at the entrance to the children’s hospital Thursday, with patients and community members writing messages to her on a poster.

The hospital is now a staple of Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile.

“The legacy of Helen June Van Wesep DeVos will live on forever in the hearts and minds of the many people whose lives she touched. Her legacy will continue to have a lasting influence on the mission and vision of Spectrum Health, where her generosity helped to establish numerous programs and services,” said Spectrum Health President and CEO Richard Breon in a statement.

“Helen DeVos, a woman we knew and loved, will be remembered as someone who believed in and encouraged us to be our best. While we mourn her passing, we celebrate and give thanks for her life and legacy of giving that had such profound impact on our community,” Breon concluded.

Speaking with 24 Hour News 8 Thursday afternoon, Breon remembered DeVos as a generous, humble woman who was dedicated to giving every child a chance.

“Very strong woman who wasn’t as outgoing as Rich, of course, but you know, she held her own very well,” he said. “She was very kind and caring person, very interested in the well-being of children, wanted to make sure that everybody had a shot, everybody was well enough to be able to live up to their full potential.”

The DeVos family is well known for its philanthropy, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to their causes across West Michigan and the world. The following are buildings and attractions with Helen DeVos’ name attached to them:

“Her legacy is extraordinary and of itself as a leader in Grand Rapids,” former Mayor George Heartwell said of DeVos. “The philanthropic investments that bear her name, most particularly the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital has, in many ways, placed Grand Rapids on the map as a destination health center where families are coming from all over the country because they know at the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital they will get the best care using the latest technology and the most skilled medical professionals in the field.”

According to information posted online, visitation for Helen DeVos is scheduled for 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday in the Ambassador Ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel downtown. A private Celebration of Life service will be held Tuesday, followed by a public reception from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Ambassador Ballroom.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Calvin College Van Wesep Scholarship Fund, Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church or The King’s College.

>>Photos: Remembering Helen DeVos

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