Ok

By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

November 18, 2017

"That's not quite right, Bob."

 

IMG_0149.JPG

“That’s not quite right,” Bob.

 

By jim richmond

 

     So, interjected Eleanor (Ellie) DeVries, with more than a bit of warmth and controlled staccato, sitting across from her husband and soulmate of some 50—plus years, Robert (Bob) DeVries, in their attractive but modest southside home in Battle Creek, Michigan.

     Their animated, humorous, joie de vivre life stories continued to flow forward in beautiful, rhythmic form, but sometimes interrupted, with surprise and wonder.

     Much like Frank Lloyd Wright’s natural fountain flow genius in  home Falling Waters– punctuated with not infrequent points of surprising direction and interjection – so the DeVries conversation will take a quick turn, with perhaps a long forgotten detail from life’s bumps, barriers, bridges, happening so long ago.

     “I think you’re right about that one Mother,” Bob said, corrected at times.  

     Or,  

     "Sweetheart, just let Jim ask his questions,” Ellie would say, attempting to bring a long tale or brief story to an abrupt close or new direction.

      Over some 5 hours and 2 interviews, glancing from their face to face, expressions, eye contact, smiles and animation, I realized they weren’t “correcting” each other, but adding frosting to a cake, a delicious layer of cherry filling detail and richness to an already interesting story.

      Not teacher-correcting-student-over-imprecise-word-conjunction or memory.  Rather Frank Lloyd Wright's falling water flow, an easy, much repeated loving banter between the DeVries, tinged, complemented by two different but equally strong, precise, inquisitive minds, usually in sync, but of their own memory twists, turf of family territorial imperative, personality and persuasion.

     I’d arrived at two, 3 to 4-hour interviews with the DeVries with some trepidation, that’d followed me for weeks (among other difficult personal life changes of mine), as I struggled to determine where to begin this profile, what to include, and to where to end.

     Finally realizing it was not -- not page-on-page written plethora about life travels and their remarkable achievements that drew me like a magnet to metal. 

     But rather the uniqueness I sensed in them as individuals, and as a couple.

     The DeVries might seem conventional. 

     But they are not in several traditional ways  – in this world where money, status, branding and headlines drownes us on the daily news and in the lives who so many aspire to and envy.

     Bob and Ellie DeVries are organized but extraordinarily casual about it....

     Generous but demanding in what they think and want to help make happen.

     Rich in their professional, personal and life experiences but inquisitive, lively listeners.

     Like a second-rate, Sam Spade detective, I found myself just sitting up the street from their home on one occasion. 

     Thinking. 

     Trying to construct a basic understanding of these two people who've lived within the same modest home where they raised successful, very different adult children.  And provided their kids the best educations, regardless of impact on their own family budget or finances.

     And from this house, their church and strong religious beliefs, professions, community – have had quiet, but profound impact across a renaissance life style of exploration and personal growth.IMG_0164.jpg

     Ellie, the wife and mother and artist, went back to graduate school for more art studies, and whose work today graces its own separate gallery at a local college and at many other exhibit locations.

     I listened to her stories of casually searching back alleys of Beijing and finding breathtaking, four-color “peasant” Chinese art, while Kellogg Foundation program director and hospital administration expert Bob was on one of his 13 or so professional consultation or Foundation required trips. (See photo of Chinese art at top of page.)

     Bob recalls countless meetings with top echelon Chinese physicians on how to begin modernizing their antiquated hospital systems, to better serving Chinese’s near 2 billion comrades – 80 percent still rural poor.

     DeVries’ impact on worldwide leadership development, health and hospital care in the United States and Latin America has been covered in the Harvard Business Review, and scores of articles and research papers. 

     Little in their hometown of Battle Creek has not been the beneficiary of the DeVries’ family quiet leadership and personal philanthropy. 

     They are not known as the “we’ll write a check and then please go away version” of personal philanthropy,

     The DeVries have dramatically -  dramatically -  helped reshape the quality of life of their community – health care delivery, college access for poor kids, expansion and cultivation of both visual and performing arts, quality and access of thousands in 4 counties to prompt, lifesaving emergency medical care, development of a regional public zoo and private-public arboretum, both that draw thousands of visitors a year. 

     And, as one civic leader pointed out, the DeVries’ “brand” of hands-on philanthropy has helped propel growth and impact of the Battle Creek Community Foundation – one of the most vibrant, progressive, risk-taking  public grantmaking philanthropies in Michigan.

     These DeVries’ stories (with or without Ellie’s clarifications or corrections!) could go on. 

     And on.

     And on.

     But some 25 years ago, and with a bit of journalistic skepticism, I casually asked Bob and Ellie, why such smart, fairly well off financially, broad gauged people maintained so relatively unassuming lives in their hometown?

     Bob told me, “We decided to put whatever resources we accumulated into our children’s futures, in their educational and career opportunities. Not into cars or material possessions.  Whatever else, we would save and use for making life a better place for as many other people as we could. And for Battle Creek.”

     These many years have passed since he said that to me.

     And what they set as goals, as promises to themselves, their children, their community have come to pass.  And benefit many.

     Rising the other day from the comfortable sofa in the DeVries’  modest, unpretentious living room of the past 40-so years, Bob and Ellie then walked me to the door, then waving goodbye. 

     Ellie with the same wide, emphatic generous, welcoming smile, those clear eyes, leaning now slightly on her walker.

     It is not all the “things” we have in life.  But what we learn, live by and leave behind.

     Perhaps the best legacy.

     And – as others told me in researching this brief profile – that’s the difference in the lives of Bob and Ellie DeVries.

 *******


Jim Richmond is a past vice president of the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, former president of the Battle Creek Community Foundation and the Frey Family Foundation.  He is a published author, and writer of more than 300 newspaper columns.  Now semi-retired, Richmond recently lived 3 years in rural and urban areas of China.  He writes primarily as an avocation today.  No compensation is exchanged for his columns. 

The accuracy of column content is his responsibility alone. For more of his blogs: ragstorichmond/blogspirit.com. 

Richmond welcomes comments or criticism: jmadisonrichmond@gmail.com

*********

Copyright 2017 Jim Richmond

Post a comment