A local legend as far as business and philanthropy, Art Van Elslander, has died. He was 87.
The founder of Art Van’s in 1959, he grew a store where he was the only employee into a furniture powerhouse based in Warren, Michigan.
Born in 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, Van Elslander was the son of a Belgian immigrant. He grew up in Detroit, selling newspapers and working in his father’s bar as a young boy. At age 14, he discovered his love of fashion when he took a job working at a local haberdashery, Square Menswear. After graduating from Denby High School in 1948 and serving in the U.S. Army, Mr. Van Elslander married, started a family and took a job at Gruenwald Furniture.
He opened his first store in 1959, the sole proprietor of a 4,000 square foot shop on Gratiot Avenue in East Detroit, and headed Art Van Furniture to nearly 4,000 associates and more than 100 Art Van Furniture locations.
The chain was sold to a private equity company in January of 2017 for an undisclosed price.
Van Elslander was also very active in philanthropy, supporting a variety of organizations and received a Max M. Fisher Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 1992. He supported organizations like St. John Providence Health System, Focus:HOPE, Forgotten Harvest and the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph, among others.
When Detroit’s Thanksgiving Parade company was on its back financially, he was the man who wrote a personal $200,000 check in 1990 to keep it alive after The Parade Company had lost their primary sponsor.
The parade had seen a series of issues. Hudson’s stopped sponsoring in 1980. Later in the decade, in 1988, television network CBS pulled the plug on carrying it nationally.
Van Elslander also helped rebuild the organization, according to reports at the time. Fixing issues with creditors, and putting together more fundraisers. It’s now called America’s Thanksgiving Parade and has events like the Hob Nobble Gobble Presented By Ford and the Strategic Staffing Solutions Turkey Trot. The Parade Company also offers tours for organizations.
A family man, Art Van Elslander leaves behind 10 children, his wife Mary Ann, and several grand children and great grand children.