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Barfield, DeVos, Van Elslander: Remembering the Legacies of Philanthropic Leader’s

Crain’s Content Studio

Michigan’s preeminent business people leave a legacy in their communities.

From the revitalization of downtown Grand Rapids, to the saving of a Ypsilanti neighborhood to securing the future of Detroit’s Thanksgiving parade, the sons of the men who made those contributions met in the same place for the first time on Thursday, May 30 at the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference.

Impellem Group’s David W. Barfield, son of the late John Barfield; DP Fox Ventures LLC’s Daniel G.  DeVos, son of the late Richard DeVos, and A.A. Van Elslander Foundation’s David Van Elslander, son of the late Art Van Elslander, talked about the contributions of their fathers. WJR NewsTalk’s Paul W. Smith moderated the discussion.

John Barfield, who founded several companies under the name Bartech Group and was a longtime patron of the Parkridge Community Center in Ypsilanti, left an indelible impact in the neighborhood.

Richard DeVos co-founded the eminent direct selling firm AmWay and was notable for his efforts to develop Grand Rapids. From a symphony hall to a local college of medicine and more, DeVos’ impact was widespread.

Art Van Elslander started Art Van Furniture in a 4000-square-foot store and grew it to a company with more than 100 showrooms. He was most notable for writing a personal check that brought Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade away from the brink of cancelation in 1990.

All three passed away in 2018. The panelists discussed the impact each left behind, and how it has shaped their own lives and the business they conduct.

Key Takeaways:

  • “We could not go anywhere in (Ypsilanti) where someone did not know him, black or white. He also had a personality that was very attractive to people. He was very kind, always willing to help, always willing to listen,” David Barfield said.
  • “I don’t think it’s about topping them or doing better than them; it’s carrying on what they started and continuing their legacy and teaching our children to carry that legacy as well,” Van Elslander said.
  • “My dad always came from the heart. His heart would sort of lead him where to go. His values, his dedication to his family and his business — that’s what drove him. Money didn’t drive him; fame didn’t drive him it just was a result of what he did,” DeVos said.

This session was sponsored by Consumers Energy.

This article was written by Crain’s Content Studio for the 2019 Mackinac Policy Conference.