DeVries Earns ATHENA Award

September 23, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Eileen DeVries says her advice to women is to do what they enjoy and give up on the guilt.

DeVries, senior vice president of investments and wealth management adviser for Merrill Lynch, said guilt over staying at home or having a career can be detrimental to women, as well as their families.

“If you do what you want to do, you’re much better in both places,” she said. “I think a lot of women worry that they are in the wrong place at all times.”

Doing what makes them happy is what’s important, DeVries said, not what others think they should be doing.

“I think everyone has their own opinion and I think you have to be confident in the way you proceed,” she said.

After 30 years of doing what she wants to do in her career and in her work with various community boards and organizations, DeVries is being honored with the ATHENA Award, given by the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. The award honors a leader who has worked to further the opportunities of women and who has given back to the community. Jacqueline Taylor, Davenport University vice president for development, nominated DeVries for the award.

“She has been such a woman of courage over the years and was really, in many ways, ahead of her time in understanding that women’s leadership is critical to this nation,” Taylor said. “To really take her place in an all-male world when she started out in Merrill Lynch and to become one of the top salespeople across the nation as a stockbroker … I think was really pretty solid (of DeVries) in understanding goal-setting and leadership and self-confidence.”

Taylor said she feels DeVries embodies the tenants of the ATHENA award, especially commitment to community.

“She has always understood giving back to the community,” Taylor said. “She felt that her place and her family’s place in the community meant that they enable and empower other people to succeed, too.

“As a former ATHENA recipient, I’m so delighted to have someone like her become an ATHENA recipient and join the group of people who have really tried hard to live up to the wisdom and the tenants of ATHENA leadership.”

DeVries, who currently serves on the ATHENA International board, said the award is an honor, “especially because I know what they look for.”

Achievement of goals and a right to excel were instilled in DeVries at an early age. As a child, DeVries had a career role model in her own mother. In a time when most women were homemakers, DeVries’ mother was running the family business in Minnesota. Her father, who was in marketing, also encouraged her to pursue a career.

“My father always gave me the belief that I could do anything I wanted to,” she said.

DeVries has mentored her own daughter, Rachel Mraz. Mraz, 24, is in the business with her mother at Merrill Lynch.

As one of the first women in her field, DeVries has worked against stereotypes and fought for equality, particularly in her work with the state on a bill ending the practice of men-only tee-times at golf courses.

“What happened is, if you wanted to go out and play golf with a client, you couldn’t play until 2 p.m.,” she said. “It was just different back then.”

DeVries, who has been with Merrill Lynch nearly 30 years, said that finding a job also used to be different for women, recalling the separate male and female job columns in the newspapers. She originally came to work for the company after appearing for an interview scheduled for her husband, Brian. Since he had already found another position, DeVries stepped in and took his interview appointment, eventually getting the job.

Of the 128 people in her training class for Merrill Lynch, only seven were women.

“You get hired on what you know,” she said.

DeVries said she has always had fun with her work, and has encouraged her children to do the same.

“I think it’s important to enjoy your work, and if you don’t have fun with what you do, find something you could have fun with,” she said.

In addition to her career at Merrill Lynch, DeVries serves on a variety of boards, including the Frederik Meijer Gardens Board of Trustees, United Way, Davenport College, Junior Achievement and the ATHENA International board.

“This community is so different in how it gives back compared to a lot of cities,” she said. “You get a lot out of it.”

DeVries said she looks up to the founders of Alticor, Steelcase and other area businesses as leaders.

“The pillars of business in our community are very inspirational,” she said.

DeVries will be honored at a ceremony at Meijer Gardens on Tuesday that will feature keynote speaker Liane Hansen, host of National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Sunday.”

Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce President Jeanne Englehart said 28 women and one man were nominated for the award this year, all of whom will be recognized at the ceremony.

“Certainly Eileen is very deserving,” she said. “She was the ideal candidate to be the recipient.”

In addition to the ATHENA award, five women students over the age of 30 will be awarded scholarships for their pursuit of higher education. Scholarship winners are Paula Anderson of Grand Rapids Community College, Holly Mayer of Davenport University, Dorothy Sewe of Grand Valley State University, Amy Yonkers of Reformed Bible College, and Paulette Vaiu of Davenport University.    

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