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St. Cecilia Music Center Launches the Helen DeVos Legacy Award to Celebrate Arts & Culture within the West Michigan Community

Dedicated in the name of Helen DeVos, the Helen DeVos Legacy Award will be presented each year during Women’s History Month (March) to honor an Outstanding Woman who has developed, contributed and advocated for expanding the Arts and Culture within West Michigan

St. Cecilia Music Center (SCMC) hosted the first annual Helen DeVos Legacy Award Event to honor the late Helen DeVos, arts advocate and philanthropist, for her lifelong support of the arts and culture in the West Michigan community. The event, held on March 23, 2019 during Women’s History month, also celebrated SCMC’s 135th anniversary and the history of women at St. Cecilia Music Center.

Executive Director, Cathleen Holbrook says, “SCMC was built through the efforts of women. We are very pleased to establish this inaugural award and to honor Mrs. DeVos for all of her efforts in promoting the arts in West Michigan.  We’re especially pleased that we’ll be moving forward in the future to honor other women in the community who have really made a difference in the cultural life of Grand Rapids, in Helen DeVos’ name.”

Helen DeVos’ generosity helped transform the local education, health care and arts sectors, specifically her support of music locally, as well as, nationally, forever changing the scope and trajectory of many arts organizations and insuring high quality musical experiences for community members into the future.

“My mother has always been a lover of the arts and the community. She knew that the arts and music were an important part of a well-balanced community, said son Dan DeVos. “There was always a special place in my mother’s heart for St. Cecilia.  I remember coming here as a child and I think that what she liked was that there was something for everybody here – the young, the old, and the up and comers who were just beginning to learn more about music. The variety here is what she connected to and why she served at St. Cecilia Music Center for so many years.”

In subsequent years, SCMC will present the Helen DeVos Legacy Award to a West Michigan woman who has demonstrated exemplary service within the arts and whose efforts have helped expand the cultural landscape of the city.

The late Richard DeVos, who approved the creation of the award in his wife’s name in 2018, was thrilled that Helen’s legacy would be honored and remembered in this way by St. Cecilia Music Center and the entire West Michigan community for years to come.

The Helen DeVos Legacy Award event included video presentations about Helen DeVos’ arts and cultural legacy, the 135 – year history of St. Cecilia Music Center, and a live performance by the DeVos Quartet. The members of the DeVos Quartet recalled cherished moments and the service that Helen DeVos gave to Grand Rapids Symphony performers and to the DeVos Quartet members. The DeVos Quartet was formed in 1974 under the sponsorship of Richard and Helen DeVos who were advocates and supporters, at that time, in transforming the Grand Rapids Symphony, a community group of performers, into a professional symphony with members recruited from all over the United States and abroad.

Helen DeVos’ Arts Legacy 

  • Member, Board Member, and President of the Board at St. Cecilia Music Center – 1970 – 1974.
  • Grand Rapids Symphony Honorary Board Member and Honorary Executive Member – 1971 – 2017
  • Founding Sponsors (with Richard DeVos) of The DeVos Quartet and The Artist in Residence Program (comprised of GR Symphony performers)
  • Life Member of the Grand Rapids Symphony Women’s Committee
  • Honorary Board Member for The League of American Orchestras in New York City
  • The Gold Baton Award – League of American Orchestras – 2012
  • Bravo! Lifetime Achievement Award- Grand Rapids Symphony – 1991 & 2007
  • William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership – 2006
  • Grand Rapids Arts Council Award – 1978

The Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation also supported:

  • The Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Arts and Worship at Grand Rapids Christian High School; and
  • DeVos Communication Center at Calvin College

History of St. Cecilia Music Center

Our oldest performing arts organization in West Michigan, St. Cecilia Music Center, began in 1883. Nine women, led be Ella Matthews Pierce, gathered on a September afternoon to form a society to promote the study and appreciation of music in all of its branches, and to encourage the development of music within the community. They chose to name the new organization after Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of music.

In the late 1880’s the members began planning for a building of their own, designed by prominent Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb, who was a protégé of Carnegie Hall’s architect, William Burnet Tuthill. The building, which currently stands at 24 Ransom Ave. in downtown Grand Rapids, opened to the public in 1894, and is the only building in the United States built by women and was operated solely for the purpose of music.

St. Cecilia Music Center is known as the “Mother of the Arts” in Grand Rapids:

  • The predecessor to the Grand Rapids Symphony, was originally organized by SCMC in 1919.
  • Opera nights started in the 1960’s sowing the creation of the West Michigan Opera Association, which evolved into today’s Opera Grand Rapids.
  • Grand Rapids Civic Theater also traces its beginnings to SCMC.

SCMC has also hosted thousands of community events since its founding, including an address by Susan B. Anthony in 1899 in support of Women’s Suffrage. During World War I, SCMC served the national needs by headquartering the American Red Cross. In the 1950’s SCMC held local art classes in the building under the auspices of the GI Bill.

SCMC also had its share of challenges. It was slated for demolition in 1966 in the wake of downtown Grand Rapids Urban Renewal. Fortunately, the building was saved by members of the community who recognized its great value and regional asset for maintaining and supporting the arts throughout eight decades. Since 1971, the building has been listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Still carrying out the founding women’s original mission, today St. Cecilia Music Center has expanded the scope of its programming moving beyond its decades long reputation as an organization focused solely on Classical Music. Today SCMC’s main three concert series include The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Series now in its seventh season, which brings the best chamber musicians in the world to Grand Rapids to perform three times per season; The Jazz Series in its 12thseason; and The Acoustic Café Folk Series in its fifth season.

St. Cecilia Music Center also continues to provide quality music education opportunities for thousands of youth and adults through its School of Music Programs. These programs include youth orchestras, bands and jazz combos, and music camps in the summer, as well as, an adult band and orchestra. There is also an elementary school level outreach program within Grand Rapids Public Schools called “Strings to Schools”. This free after school beginning strings class for kids has helped them improve their grades, their attitudes, and their family life.

SCMC remains committed to being an assessable community hub that provides life changing musical experiences for everyone that wishes to participate.

More information about St. Cecilia Music Center is available online at scmc-online.org