In 1991, a plan was floated publicly in Grand Rapids to build a multi-purpose sports and convention arena north of downtown.

Dick DeVos, who at the time was on a path to the CEO's job in his family's Amway Corp., picked up the phone and started lobbying against the idea.

DeVos was worried that the convention center would be as detrimental to downtown Grand Rapids as the construction of the Pontiac Silverdome and Palace of Auburn Hills had been for Detroit when the Lions and Pistons left the city in the 1970s.

"That lesson was not lost on us," said DeVos, who was CEO of Amway from 1993 to 2002.

DeVos' campaign against a sports facility outside the central business district led to the formation of Grand Action, a group of business leaders who were the driving forces behind construction of Van Andel Arena, the DeVos Place Convention Center, the DeVos Performance Hall, the Grand Rapids City Market and Michigan State University's medical school.

Those destinations are credited with changing the Grand Rapids skyline — and the trajectory of a city trying to staunch suburban sprawl.

As the heirs to two family fortunes, Dick and Betsy DeVos have spent much of their adult lives attempting to change institutions and policies. As GOP mega-donors, their political influence has catalyzed major changes in state laws affecting education and labor.

Betsy DeVos pushed successfully for expansion of charter schools, while Dick DeVos engineered the 2012 law that converted Michigan from the birthplace of organized labor to a right-to-work state where union membership is no longer a condition of employment.

But the DeVos influence extends well beyond the Republican politics and conservative causes they're arguably best known for supporting.

From 1989 to 2015, the Dick & Betsy DeVos Family Foundation reported giving away $138.7 million to leadership programs, arts and culture, health and human services, churches, and policy initiatives centered on education reform and scholarships for private schools.

In Grand Rapids, the couple made the leading donation of $12.5 million toward the 2006 construction of a $103 million children's hospital in the Spectrum Health System named after Dick's mother, Helen DeVos, the wife of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos.

"The children's hospital now has allowed families to remain at home and for parents not have to take time off work to drive to Mayo (Clinic), or Chicago or Ann Arbor or wherever the case may be to receive care," said Dick DeVos, who chairs Spectrum's corporate board.

Education reform has been one of the DeVos' biggest initiatives. Dick DeVos founded an aviation charter high school at Grand Rapids International Airport.

Betsy DeVos said their education advocacy and philanthropy have been on "similar tracks," seeking the same outcome: that children from poor families have the same opportunity their kids had.

The DeVos' efforts to sway public opinion toward their philosophies has not always succeeded.

In 2000, voters rejected a DeVos-sponsored constitutional amendment to create tax-funded vouchers for students to attend private schools. Six years later, Dick DeVos lost a costly campaign for governor against incumbent Jennifer Granholm.

But the DeVoses didn't give up. They shifted their strategic advocacy for private school vouchers to other parts of the country. Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia now have some form of vouchers for private schools, Betsy DeVos said.

"The momentum around giving parents more choices, giving students more choices, is continuing to build," Betsy DeVos said in an interview with Crain's.

Betsy DeVos' school choice advocacy was one reason President Donald Trump cited in appointing her U.S. Secretary of Education. She was narrowly confirmed by the U.S. Senate amid a heated debate over the impact of school choice programs on traditional public school systems.