Art Van Elslander, whose name and company became synonymous with furniture in Metro Detroit, and whose generosity helped keep the Thanksgiving Day Parade afloat, died after a year-long battle with cancer. The head of Art Van Furniture was 87.
Those saluting his civic and charity contributions include Detroit's mayor and Michigan's governor:
The City of Detroit lost one of its greatest supporters and philanthropists today. Furniture may have been Art Van Elslander’s business, but Detroit has always been his heart.— Mayor Mike Duggan (@MayorMikeDuggan) February 12, 2018
There will never be another “Art Van.” He will be terribly missed and fondly remembered.
I am saddened to hear that Art Van Elslander has passed away. Art was an incredible businessman & philanthropist whose dedication to the people of MI will never be forgotten. Sue & I send our thoughts & prayers to his wife Mary Ann & his entire family during this difficult time. pic.twitter.com/rVlNecX4vn— Governor Rick Snyder (@onetoughnerd) February 12, 2018
The company posts Monday morning on Facebook:
We lost a Legend today: Michigan Philanthropist and Founder of Art Van Furniture, Art Van Elslander February 12, 2018. Archie A. Van Elslander, who was known as "Mr. Van" and founded what became one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the United States, passed away on February 12, 2018, at the age of 87, surrounded by his family.
"My family is heartbroken by the loss of our father," said Gary Van Elslander, president of Van Elslander Capital, and Mr. Van Elslander’s eldest son.
Born in 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, Mr. Van Elslander was the son of a Belgian immigrant. He grew up in Detroit, peddling papers 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 ultimately grew Art Van Furniture to nearly 4,000 associates and over 100 Art Van Furniture locations throughout the Midwest before selling the business in early 2017.
A pioneer retailer and master promoter, he was widely respected in the furniture industry for his creative approach to marketing. Mr. Van Elslander’s awards and recognitions are many, with his generosity and business acumen regularly acknowledged.
With a seemingly limitless capacity for giving, Mr. Van Elslander was one of Michigan’s most generous and beloved philanthropists. When Detroit’s annual Thanksgiving Day parade was in financial peril in 1990, Mr. Van Elslander made an historic donation that saved this cherished tradition. For the next 25 years, he personally rode in the parade, waving to crowds along the route.
He was a major benefactor of countless charities, including St. John Providence Health System, Focus:HOPE, Forgotten Harvest and the Capuchin Franciscan Province of St. Joseph. He leaves behind an indelible print on the hearts of many, and will be sorely missed.
The family appreciates the outpouring of love and support, and requests privacy in their time of grief. Funeral arrangements are not yet confirmed.