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Christel DeHaan, prominent Indianapolis philanthropist, dies at age 77

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Posted at 11:38 AM, Jun 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-06 14:29:36-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Christel DeHaan, one of Indianapolis' most prominent community leaders, arts benefactors and philanthropists, has died. She was 77.

A spokesperson for Christel House International said DeHaan died Saturday morning at her home surrounded by family.

DeHaan, who emigrated from Germany to the United States in 1962, co-founded Resort Condominiums International with her then-husband, Jon, in 1974.

In 1998, two years after she sold RCI for $825 million, DeHaan created Christel House International, which serves 6,000 students worldwide in the United States, India, Jamaica, Mexico and South Africa. DeHaan retired as CEO of Christel House in 2018, but served as board chair until her death.

In addition to her work with Christel House, DeHaan provided funding for numerous arts initiatives in Central Indiana and served on multiple local and national boards.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett both mourned the news of DeHaan's death and emphasized the legacy she left behind.

“Christel was a world renown humanitarian, rooted in her expertise in business and expressed through immense compassion," Holcomb said in a statement. "She used her talents to support the arts, and transform the lives of impoverished children globally through educational access to those she had never met. I will miss her spirit, her wit, her commitment, but most of all daily inspiration. We should all be comforted knowing her legacy will live on for generations to come.”

Hogsett added that DeHaan used her fortune to help people and institutions in Indianapolis and around the world.

“While we were lucky that Christel decided to call Indianapolis home, she was truly a citizen of the world," Hogsett said in a statement. "As a philanthropist, Christel utilized her resources to invest in areas where she saw a need — strengthening arts and cultural institutions and providing educational opportunities to children in Indianapolis and around the globe. I am grateful for the friendship and support of Christel over the years and know that her impact will be felt for generations to come.”

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Christel DeHaan, who died at age 77, posed with students at Christel House's academy in South Africa.

Former Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma said he worked with DeHaan for more than 20 years to improve educational opportunities for low-income children in the state.

“Her impact, however, went far beyond Indiana’s borders as she opened opportunities for impoverished children around the world, forever changing young lives," Bosma said in a statement. "She was deeply compassionate, constantly gracious, and an extraordinary and tireless advocate for children, the arts and justice in our communities. She is irreplaceable and will be sorely missed.”

Christel House announced its work will continue to be supported through funding from the Endless Success Foundation, an organization created by DeHaan's estate. Christel House's general and administrative expenses will be covered in perpetuity, which will allow donor investments to serve the programs and services needed by Christel House students, according to a statement from the organization.

Dennert O. Ware, chair of the Christel House International Governance Committee, said DeHaan's "vision and compassion were unparalleled."

“Christel sought to provide impoverished children with a seat at the table of life — and accomplished her mission with a unique blend of business acumen, generosity and empathy for those less fortunate. Her legacy will live on in the thousands of lives she uplifted," Ware said.

DeHaan is survived by three children and her older sister, along with numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews.