The orchestra world lost one of its most generous and dedicated supporters this fall. Helen DeVos died on October 18 in Ada Township, Michigan, just outside her hometown of Grand Rapids. She was 90. DeVos, wife of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, had a lifelong love of music from the time she began playing piano as a child. She channeled that passion into philanthropy, which in addition to music included programs for children and Christian education. She served on the board of the Grand Rapids Symphony for many years, and was a longtime supporter of the League of American Orchestras. In addition to her husband, DeVos is survived by four children, including son Dick, who is married to Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Helen DeVos joined the Grand Rapids Symphony’s board of directors in 1971, and in 1974 she and her husband established the orchestra’s DeVos Quartet, allowing the orchestra to hire its first full-time musicians. In 2012 she and her husband launched the orchestra’s $40 million endowment campaign with a $20 million gift. DeVos Performance Hall is one of many Grand Rapids institutions named after the couple.
DeVos served on the board of the League of American Orchestras from 1982 to 1992, and was an honorary board member at the time of her death. For her service to the orchestra field, she was awarded the League’s Gold Baton Award in 2012. “Helen was the rare kind of donor who really understood the importance of a healthy sector,” says League President and CEO Jesse Rosen. “She not only was instrumental in the growth and sustenance of the Grand Rapids Symphony, she believed in the League, and wanted us to have substantial, significant annual support for general operations. She had a deep commitment to all orchestras, with a particular interest in smaller-budget orchestras.”
Catherine French, who was the League’s president and CEO from 1980 to 1996, says, “I remember Helen DeVos fondly as an active member of the League Board and Executive Committee, as chairman of the Nominating Committee, and as a major donor who made possible much of the League’s work. Her grace and elegance in inviting new members to join the board were also reflected in the way she thanked those whose board service was coming to an end. I will always be grateful for her extraordinary generosity to the League and to the field.”