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A Tale of Two Betsy DeVoses

Residents of this western Michigan town are having trouble reconciling the Betsy DeVos they know with the Betsy DeVos who serves as President Donald Trump’s controversial education secretary.  

The former is widely seen as pragmatic and generous, even by those who dislike her political leanings and devotion to charter schools. The latter? “Unprepared,” “tone deaf,” and “insulated” were phrases that came up more than once during interviews with people who either know DeVos or her family or are familiar with her dealings in this part of the state.

Born into the wealthy, conservative Prince family in 1958, DeVos was raised in the Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan, a largely Dutch community near the shores of Lake Michigan. She attended Calvin College, a Christian school in nearby Grand Rapids, before marrying Dick DeVos, whose family co-founded Amway and who ran unsuccessfully for governor a decade ago. (A former classmate recalled lusting after the Mercedes Dick arrived in to pick her up for dates.) The couple, who celebrated their wedding anniversary recently and were back in Grand Rapids for a private celebration of her confirmation with friends, have four grown children. (A request to interview DeVos while she was in town went unanswered, as did a follow-up request for comment to the Education Department.) Over the years, the billionaire couple have contributed to various conservative religious and political causes. DeVos, in particular, has pushed to expand charter schools and the use of vouchers, which let students use public funding to pay for private, sometimes religious, schooling.