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Christel DeHaan, Indianapolis businesswoman, philanthropist and education advocate, has died

Source: Shari RudavskyElizabeth DePompei - Indianapolis Star

Original article can be found here

Christel DeHaan, a German immigrant who grew an Indiana-based timeshare condominium business into a global player and later used proceeds to fund education and anti-poverty initiatives around the world, has died, friends close to her announced Saturday. She was 77.  DeHaan founded Christel House International, a nonprofit organization that works to transform the lives of impoverished children through education. She leaves behind three children, numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews.

She founded Christel House in 1998 after a career as co-founder of Resort Condominiums International. The nonprofit now serves nearly 6,000 students and graduates worldwide through schools in India, Jamaica, Mexico, South Africa and the United States. In addition to her work and devotion to Christel House, Christel was known for her generosity to the arts in Central Indiana and has served on numerous local and national boards. The fine arts center at University of Indianapolis bears her name: the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. "While we were lucky that Christel decided to call Indianapolis home, she was truly a citizen of the world," Mayor Joe 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.”

Appreciating the simple things in life Born in Germany in the midst of World War II, DeHaan was raised by her mother, Anna, after her father, Adolf Stark, was killed toward the end of the war by American bombs. Although the family’s life was far from lavish, her mother would feed hungry people and support war orphans, she said in a 2010 IndyStar profile of her. As a teenager, she moved to England to become a governess. She later moved to Indiana after meeting her first husband back in Germany on a U.S. Army base. Her upbringing led her to appreciate the simple things in life, she said.  

"I can get excited when I see a sunset. I can get excited when I see the first violet coming out in the ground or the first daffodil blooming," she said. "I think that has a lot to do with the way we grew up and the circumstances of those times." But later in life, after marrying her second husband, Jon DeHaan, she enjoyed a far more luxurious existence. Together, starting in the early 1970s, the two built a timeshare business, Resort Condominiums International, becoming among the first to develop the idea of allowing timeshare owners to trade time with those at other resorts. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the couple became embroiled in a messy divorce. It ended with Christel buying Jon out of the company. In 1997, however, she sold the company — which had about 4,000 employees at the time, 1,500 of those in Indianapolis — for $625 million to hotel franchiser HFS Inc. In an IndyStar article published at the time, DeHaan said that she had visited all but three of RCI’s 68 offices in 32 countries. A 'poverty alleviation model' The following year, DeHaan had an epiphany. She had traveled to Mexico to learn more about a nun who was seeking support to help with an impoverished orphanage, the IndyStar reported in 2010. She wanted to do something that would have a lasting impact on the lives of children in need. Christel House was born. The concept was what she called a “poverty alleviation model.” The model consisted of providing schools for children and helping their families with services to prepare children for college or skilled jobs. The first school opened in Mexico City. Next came Indiana and then Venezuela. She has said that she chose her charity’s name with care. "I liked the word 'house' because I wanted our children to feel that this is their house and this is their home. This is their special place," she said. "'House' always had significant meaning." DeHaan’s own 40-room home, sequestered behind high walls along Michigan Road, was famously opulent with tapestries and an indoor pool. The 20,000-square-foot Italianate mansion sits on 172 acres. While she defined herself as a private person, she would regularly host up to 50 guests at her home, which was filled with salons, each with a specific topic, from health care to what had happened to civility. Her attention to detail at these events reflected how meticulous she had been as a businesswoman, said Brian Payne, president and chief executive officer of the Central Indiana Community Foundation. “It wasn’t a cocktail party. It was a serious discussion in a beautiful setting,” Payne said. “This was an evening that was beautifully curated…. It was about becoming seriously knowledgeable about things and having important discussions. At one salon that focused on the French playwright Moliere, Payne’s wife, Gail, raised her hand when one of the performers asked for a volunteer from the audience. After the event, DeHaan went out of her way to write her guest a note to thank her for her contribution. Christel House DeHaan applied the same level of attention to her school. When Oprah Winfrey decided to open her own school in South Africa, she turned to DeHaan for advice, Payne said. "That's how incredible Christel was," he said. But not all of the press about DeHaan and her schools was positive.  In 2013, an Associated Press report found that state school officials worked to change the school’s grade from a C to an A in 2012.

According to the Associated Press, Christel House was still slowly growing its high school at the time, allowing its incomplete high school test scores to be excluded from the grading formula. Its score was re-calculated to an A using only elementary school data. Emails obtained by the AP show then-Superintendent Tony Bennett and his staff scrambled to ensure DeHaan’s school received an A. Other schools saw their grades change, but the emails showed DeHaan’s charter was a catalyst for the changes. DeHaan had given more than $2.8 million to Republicans, including $130,000 to Bennett and thousands more to state legislative leaders. The following year, the academy’s grade dropped from an A to an F. More recently, however, Christel House schools have stood as models for education success. Currently there are four schools in Indianapolis, including a high school. Earlier this year Indianapolis Public Schools announced plans to partner with Christel House and move some of its programs to Manual High School. None of this would have been possible without DeHaan's vision and effort.  Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb called DeHaan "a great community leader." "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.” 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.”  Source: hari RudavskyElizabeth DePompei - Indianapolis Star

Original article can be found here

Contact IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at 317-444-6354 or Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter: @srudavsky. Contact IndyStar reporter Elizabeth DePompei at 317-444-6196 or Follow her on Twitter: @edepompei.

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