Accomplished Businesswoman, Community Leader and Philanthropist
German immigrant and businesswoman who made local and international philanthropy her life’s work.
Since 1985, the International Citizen of the Year Award has been a cornerstone of the Indianapolis community, honoring the most influential and impactful leaders in Hoosier history. In 2022, The International Center recognized Tamika Catchings for her Olympic success and her philanthropic spirit. She became the fourth woman to receive this prestigious honor, joining the ranks of iconic pioneers and innovators like Christel DeHaan.
Christel DeHaan was born into war-torn Germany in 1942. At just 16, she moved to the United Kingdom so she could learn English through her work as a nanny. Then, in 1962, she immigrated to the United States and decided to settle in Central Indiana.
Christel DeHaan and her husband co-founded Resort Condominiums International (RCI)—a vacation timeshare company that would grow into an international giant. In 1979, DeHaan took over the day-to-day operations of the company and eventually became the sole owner of the company, as they opened offices in over 30 countries across the world. After leading RCI’s successful international expansion, DeHaan sold the firm for $825 million in 1996.
DeHaan was undoubtedly a savvy businesswoman, but her true passion was giving back. After selling RCI, she founded Christel House, an international charity focused on helping children around the world break the cycle of poverty and become truly self-sufficient. Christel House has served over 6,000 children to date in Mexico, India, Jamaica, and South Africa.
Christel DeHaan’s philanthropy also made an incredible impact on Central Indiana, supporting art and culture across the region. She founded the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation (CDFF) to provide financial grants to arts organizations across the Indianapolis community. Over the years, CDFF has given more than $60 million to local cultural institutions, such as the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Indiana Repertory Theater, and the Indianapolis Children’s Choir.
For her generous spirit and outstanding contributions to the global community, DeHaan was honored as the International Citizen of the Year in 2004. She also served for many years on The Center’s Board of Directors, before taking a turn as the Board President. The CDFF even sponsored The International Center’s Festival Fund for several years, helping The Center support and promote cultural festivals across the state.
The Festival Fund was created in 2011 to celebrate local diversity and cultural expression, enriching the community while showcasing the growing number of nationalities in the Hoosier state. Since then, the Festival Fund has sponsored events such as the Carmel Chinese Mooncake Festival, the India Association of Indianapolis’ India Day Celebration, and the Ukrainian Society of Indiana’s Ukrainian Day Festival.
Christel DeHaan passed away in 2020, but she left behind a tremendous legacy that will impact people for generations to come. The Christel DeHaan Family Foundation will dissolve in 2023—but not before using its remaining funds for legacy gifts to arts organizations across Indianapolis.
Meanwhile, Christel House will continue to operate thanks to its dedicated board and staff. The DeHaan estate created the Endless Success Foundation to cover the charity’s overhead expenses in perpetuity, so all donations go toward directly benefiting children across the globe.
In the words of Christel House International Governance Chair, Dennert O. Ware: “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.”