(Oct. 20, 1942-June 6, 2020). Christel DeHaan was a German-born Indianapolis philanthropist who cofounded resort condominiums international and, upon its sale in 1996, used the proceeds to enrich the lives of impoverished children through education and skills-based employment.

Born in Germany in the midst of World War II, DeHaan moved to England where she worked as a governess before moving to Indiana in 1962 with her first husband. After marrying her second husband, Jon DeHaan, the two started a timeshare business in the early 1970s. Resort Condominiums International (RCI) was among the first in the industry to develop the idea of allowing timeshare owners to trade time with those at other resorts.

Under DeHaan’s leadership, RCI grew into a global enterprise with offices in 38 countries. She sold RCI in 1996 and devoted her resources to philanthropy.

A woman in a business suit sits next to a desk.
Christel DeHaan, ca. 1990s Credit: Christel House View Source

DeHaan founded CHRISTEL HOUSE INTERNATIONAL  in 1998. The nonprofit organization works to transform the lives of impoverished children through holistic education. The first school opened in Mexico City in 1998 using a concept DeHaan called a “poverty alleviation model.” Christel House starts with a strong K-12 academic curriculum and adds character development programming designed to instill independence, integrity, social responsibility, and leadership. Each school provides a daily breakfast and lunch, preventative and acute health care, social services, and enrichment activities. But the Christel House holistic model of support does not end with high school graduation

For five years post-graduation, the Christel House College & Careers program provides financial, academic, and career-oriented assistance as students transition to college, apprenticeships, and work. This model has proved to be highly successful: 88 percent of Christel House graduates in the workforce have formal employment (stable positions with benefits) compared to 38 percent of their in-country peers.

A woman is seated and holding a young child.
Christel DeHaan at Christel House India, n.d. Credit: Christel House View Source

Christel House schools in Indianapolis include Christel House Academy South (K-8), Christel House Academy West (K-8), Christel House Watanabe High School (9-12) and Christel House DORS (a tuition-free high school for adults) Early in 2020, INDIANAPOLIS PUBLIC SCHOOLS announced plans to partner with Christel House Indianapolis, allowing it to relocate to Manual High School while also running Manual High School’s winddown process.

Not all the press about DeHaan and her schools has been positive. In 2013, an Associated Press report found that the school’s grade improved from a C to an A as the Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office developed the methodology for its new grading formula to yield more accurate results for all schools. Speculation around DeHaan’s political contributions followed.

Then in 2013, this grade dropped from A to F when ISTEP tests for many Christel House students could not be completed due to test software malfunctions.  Although the school appealed, its grade was left unchanged. However, in 2014 the school’s grade improved to a B. This followed a challenge to the original grade (D), which successfully argued that high school results were overweighted when the school served only grades 9 and 10. DeHaan did not take these challenges lightly. She dedicated significant time, energy, and resources to identifying and implementing changes necessary to achieve academic excellence

In addition to her work with Christel House, DeHaan was known for her generosity to the arts in Central Indiana. The fine arts center at the University of Indianapolis bears her name: the Christel Dehaan Fine Arts Center. The Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, reorganized in 1997 from the RCI Foundation to a private family foundation, made grants to arts, education, child welfare, and human needs organizations.

A group of young people gather around a woman sitting in a chair.
Christel With Christel House students, Summer 2019 Credit: Christel House View Source

DeHaan served as board chair of the University of Indianapolis for 10 years and as a board member of One America Financial Partners for 8 years. She also served on the boards of various arts organizations, including the American Pianists Association, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and Dance Kaleidoscope. She received the Sagamore of the Wabash award and the British Travel and Hospitality Hall of Fame Award in Tourism. She was an Indiana Historical Society Living Legend and received honorary doctorates from the University of Nottingham (England), Marian University, and the University of Indianapolis.

Through these efforts, DeHaan will be remembered for providing educational opportunities to children in Indianapolis and around the globe and for strengthening arts and cultural institutions in Indianapolis.

In late September 2022, the DeHaan property sold to RH, previously known as Restoration Hardware, for $14.5 million, the highest selling price ever for private residential real estate up to that point in Indiana. RH intends to convert the mansion into a furniture showroom.

Following a directive set by DeHaan in 2014, the DeHaan Family Foundation distributed the entirety of its financial resources at the end of 2023, three years after her death. The Foundation distributed $55 million in the form of grants to arts organizations, the University of Indianapolis, and nonprofits that support military families, former prison inmates, HIV prevention, and animal conservation.

Revised November 2023

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