Amway Co-Founder Remembered Fondly

December 7, 2004
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ADA — Amway co-founder Jay Van Andel, 80, died at his home in Ada this morning following years of declining health.

His wife, Betty Van Andel, preceded him in death in January of this year.

Van Andel and long-time friend Rich DeVos founded Amway Corp. in 1959 and grew it into one of the world’s largest direct sales companies.

“Jay Van Andel was the great friend of my lifetime,” DeVos said this afternoon. “I will miss him dearly.

“Jay’s life was graced with many blessings: a beautiful family, business success, great acts of philanthropy.”

With an estimated net worth of $2.3 billion, the conservative billionaire consistently ranked among Forbes magazine’s “World’s Richest People.”

A civic leader and philanthropist extraordinaire, Van Andel gave back generously to the West Michigan community.

He was founding chairman of The Right Place Inc. in Grand Rapids and had served as chairman of the board for both the U.S. and Michigan chambers of commerce.

He was the major benefactor of the Van Andel Global Trade Center at Grand Valley State University, established in 1999. The Van Andel Foundation contributed $11.5 million to construction of the 12,000-plus-seat Van Andel Arena, which opened in 1998. He also contributed the initial $1 million grant to launch the new Grand Rapids Public Museum, which now also carries the Van Andel name.

DeVos prefers to remember the personal side of his friend, however.

“It was his deep faith and humility — his daily demonstration of how to build a life on a foundation of values and integrity — that will be Jay’s lasting legacy to us all. I am proud to say that this foundation stayed strong through both the exciting times of his success and the troubling times of his struggle with illness, and the loss of his dear wife, Betty.”

Perhaps his longest lasting and most far-reaching legacy will prove to be the Van Andel Institute (VAI), a biomedical research facility that he and Betty founded in 2000 for the purpose of finding a cure for cancer.

At the time he dedicated the institute, Jay Van Andel said: “I can think of no better way to touch the lives of people than to support medical research that extends human life and reduces pain and suffering, God helping us.”

In a recent address, one of the couple’s sons, David Van Andel, VAI chairman and CEO, said his parents decided to locate the research facility in Grand Rapids because their family roots were firmly grounded in West Michigan and because they were already deeply invested in the region’s arts, education, health care and business communities.

“They knew the people of West Michigan had both a strong work ethic and solid core values,” David Van Andel said. “They believed that theses same ethics, values and community investments would provide a strong foundation for an institution dedicated to improving lives.”

DeVos said he will miss his friend and business partner.

“None of us will ever forget Jay. As a flood of wonderful memories returns to me, I am comforted by the knowledge that we were blessed by his presence and his example, for few will ever see a better man.”    

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