Christel DeHaan was born on October 20, 1942, to Adolf and Anna M.B. (Engel) Stark, in Nördlingen, Germany. In 1958 at the age of sixteen, DeHaan graduated from high school at a Franciscan convent. Following her desire to live abroad, she became a nanny in England.
There she met her first husband, Ralph Cobb. He was a medic at the military base and they wed in Switzerland. They had their first child, Keith, while still living in Germany.
When Ralph’s military tour ended in 1962, the couple and their young son moved to Indianapolis. In 1971 the marriage ended in divorce. At about this time, she enrolled at Indiana Central University (known today as the University of Indianapolis) to pursue a bachelor’s degree. DeHaan was elected to the university’s board of trustees in 1996 and later served as the board’s chairwoman for more than a decade.
In 1973, through an introduction by a classmate, she met Jon DeHaan, who then worked at an Indianapolis architectural and engineering firm.Christel and Jon married in 1973 and Jon later adopted Christel’s two sons from her first marriage. Together they also had a daughter, Kirsten, who is now a singer/songwriter/guitarist living in New York.
Almost immediately they began work on what would become Resort Condominiums International (RCI). Their initial investment of $42,000 came primarily from an inheritance Jon had received. They grew the company substantially over the next 15 years, but the couple separated in 1989 and the breakup ended in divorce in 1991.
In divorce, the judge awarded control of the company to Christel. DeHaan returned to running RCI with a vengeance, having been pushed out of the company’s day-to-day management during the two-year divorce proceedings. In 1996, DeHaan sold RCI to New Jersey based HFS Incorporated (Hospitality Franchise Systems), which also owned companies in the hotel and rental car businesses such as Howard Johnson, Ramada, and Avis.
From her wealth, she also gave back to the industry in 1998 by establishing the “Christel DeHaan Tourism and Travel Research Institute” at the University of Nottingham in England.
Since the sale of RCI, DeHaan has delved into a handful of business ventures, including CD Enterprises, which she formed in 1997 as an investment and management firm. Corporate boards on which she has served include HFS Incorporated (which became Cendant Corporation), Raintree Resorts International, Inc., and American United Life Insurance, on whose board of directors she remains today. Non-profits boards that she has helped guide include the National Adoption Center,
DeHaan was last listed by Forbes magazine as one of the four hundred richest Americans in 2002 when she was ranked as the 313th richest. She is no longer on the list because she has given away a large portion of her wealth.