Christel DeHaan


Christel DeHaan’s life epitomized the American Dream. Born during World War II in Germany and immigrating to the United States in 1962, she started typing and ironing services upon her arrival in Indiana. In 1974 she co-founded RCI, the company that pioneered vacation exchange and became the leader in its industry. When she became the sole owner of RCI in 1989 Christel led the company’s global expansion, creating over 30 international offices. At the time she sold the company in 1996 to NYSE-traded HFS, RCI had over 4,000 employees.


Christel’s passion for life, for causes, for people and for the arts, music and nature was underscored by a deep commitment to excellence in all that she did. She made a difference as an employer, as a community leader and as a philanthropist. The Christel DeHaan Family Foundation (CDFF) has made grants supporting over 700 arts, education, child welfare and human needs organizations. In 1998 she founded Christel House, a public charity that helps children around the world break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient, contributing members of society.


Through her careful planning, the work of Christel House will continue. Currently serving nearly 6,000 students, Christel House uses a holistic approach which ensures that a child’s basic needs are met, and then provides top-quality education, character development, career-planning, and ultimately, job placement. As a thoughtful and strategic philanthropist, Christel DeHaan desired CDFF to close following her death and corpus assets be provided to designated organizations through Legacy Gifts. The Foundation closed in 2023 after awarding more than $133 million in grants over its lifespan.


Through these efforts, Christel 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. Christel’s philosophy of life was, “to care, to share, to make a difference,” and nothing could summarize her life more clearly.


The Timothy Mooney Repertory Theatre has been a proud recipient of Christel’s amazing generosity. Tim first met Christel on August 18, 2015, when Tim presented a late-evening performance of Breakneck Hamlet to an audience of “maybe twelve,” as Tim recalls. “I remember going into that performance with a real chip on my shoulder, as the late performance slot and the remote venue meant that the ticket income from that night’s show would be negligible, at best. But apparently, I still gave it my all, because the next day, I got a call from Christel and a very generous donation, double the amount that I might expect to earn from the full run of the festival! The subsequent support for our organization and the astonishing $343,000 legacy grant we were awarded has enabled us to think of limitless possibilities, as we now find ourselves aiming to complete ‘breakneck’ versions of Shakespeare’s entire catalogue!”


Christel DeHaan once said, “Enabling creativity and artistic expression to flourish is an important investment in our culture and quality of life. Wonderful works of art nurture our spirit and provide an opportunity to celebrate the human spirit of creativity.” She truly lived those words to the fullest, putting so much of her energy and her spirit behind enabling the creative arts to flourish and leaving behind a legacy of a prosperous artistic community, reaching beyond Indianapolis and around the globe.