- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 7, 2004

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Jay Van Andel, the co-founder of Amway Corp. who helped parlay neighborhood soap sales into a billion-dollar business and later became a leading philanthropist for conservative causes, has died. He was 80.

Greg McNeilly, executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, said yesterday that Mr. Van Andel had died, but did not give the cause of death. Mr. Van Andel had Parkinson’s disease.

“We’re deeply saddened by the loss of a man of great integrity who has been a strong Republican supporter for a number of years,” said Mr. McNeilly, speaking on behalf of state Republican Party Chairman Betsy DeVos. Mrs. DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, a former Amway official whose father, Richard DeVos, founded Amway with Mr. Van Andel.

Amway made its fortune by relying on a worldwide network of independent, mom-and-pop distributors to sell products ranging from furniture polish to burglar alarms.

The company operates in more than 80 countries and territories worldwide and has 13,000 employees and millions of distributors. Its parent company, the privately held Alticor Inc., had worldwide sales of $6.2 billion for the year ending Aug. 31.

Mr. Van Andel and Mr. DeVos started selling diet supplements in the 1950s and coined the name Amway, an abbreviation of “American Way,” in 1959.

If Amway was co-founded in Mr. Van Andel’s basement, it was nurtured upstairs.

“Sometimes the dining room took on the character of an MBA classroom,” he wrote in his autobiography. “My son Dave told me not long ago that he learned more about business around the dinner table than from any other source — college business classes and personal involvement in the business included.”

Mr. Van Andel and his wife of more than 50 years, Betty, had four children, all of whom held executive positions with Amway — as did Mr. DeVos’ four children. Mrs. Van Andel died earlier this year.

Jay Van Andel resigned as chairman in 1995 and was succeeded by son Steve. Mr. DeVos resigned as president after a heart attack in 1992 and was succeeded by son Dick.

The Federal Trade Commission charged in 1969 that the Ada, Mich.-based company was an illegal pyramid, but ruled after a six-year investigation that it wasn’t.

The company also has been controversial because of its almost evangelical zeal in promoting free enterprise and gained attention with Mr. DeVos’ and Mr. Van Andel’s high-profile participation in Republican politics.

Born June 3, 1924, in Grand Rapids, Mich., Mr. Van Andel attended Calvin College and Morningside College before going to Pratt Business School and Yale University’s Aviation Cadet School. He then served in the Army Air Corps and as a reserve officer.

Mr. Van Andel’s resume reflected his conservative business and social philosophies. He was chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a trustee of the Heritage Foundation, Hudson Institute, Hillsdale College and the Advisory Council for American Private Education.

The founders also became generous philanthropists, with their families giving a combined $95 million from 1990 to 1998 alone.

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