Christel DeHaan, Circa 2010
IN 1996, CHRISTEL DEHAAN, 1942- 2020, became one of the richest women in the United States when she sold Resorts Condominium International (RCI), which she co-founded in 1974 and served as President during the past several years of her affiliation with the company. Her share of the sale was in excess of $800 million. At the time, RCI was the largest time-share exchange company in the world, employing 4,200 employees located in 68 offices in 33 countries. In the year of the sale, RCI facilitated more than 1.5 million time-share exchanges in 81 countries.
Ms. DeHaan was born in 1942 in Nordlingen, Germany, a picturesque Bavarian city of 9,000 residents. Her father, a soldier in the German army, was killed by a bombing attack weeks before the end of World War II. Devastated by the war, Ms. DeHaan’s mother foraged for leftover potatoes in nearby fields just to keep herself, Christel and her sister from starving. In the late 1950s, Christel married a U.S. military medic stationed in Germany and in 1962 the couple moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, his hometown. She established RCI with her second husband and after a divorce, she gained control of the company in 1992 leading up to RCI’s sale in 1996.
With her wealth, Ms. DeHaan formed the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation which supports the arts and cultural organizations in central Indiana. In addition, she established “Christel Houses” beginning in 1998. Christel Houses are schools for underprivileged girls. They have been established in Mexico City, Mexico, Bangalore, India, Caracas, Venezuela, Cape Town, South Africa, in Ms. DeHaan’s home town of Indianapolis, Indiana, near Kragujevac, Serbia, and Lavasa, India. Ms. DeHaan poured millions of dollars into these schools. As a result many of them ranked near the top of high school education in their home countries. Although Ms. DeHaan passed away in June 2020, the schools she established continue to operate to this day. Media mogul, Oprah Winfrey, prior to opening her own Leadership Academy for Girls south of Johannesburg, South African, consulted with Christel DeHaan for her insights and wisdom.
Author’s Note: In 2011, The German Historic Institute contracted with Dane Starbuck to write a 9,000 word biography of Ms. DeHaan as part of its Immigrant Entrepreneurship business series. The on-line series tells the stories of more than 225 immigrant German-Americans who have made tremendous contributions to the United States since 1720 through their ingenuity and hard work.
The series includes biographies about such individuals as Eberhard Anheuser, Adolph Busch, and Frederick Pabst, men who made fortunes in the brewing business; Charles Pfizer, founder of one of the largest chemical-pharmaceutical companies in the world; Heinrich Steinway, founder of Steinway pianos; Maximilian Berlitz, creator of the Berlitz School of Languages; Marcus Goldman, founder of Goldman Sachs & Company; and, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and a principal of Facebook.
Christel DeHaan reading to young students at one of her Christel Houses in India.