Art Van Elslander, founder of Art Van Furniture, dies at 87

- Furniture mogul Art Van Elslander, the founder of Art Van furniture, has died at the age of 87.

Art Van Elslander died Sunday night after a year-long battle with cancer, according to an internal email obtained by FOX 2.

Art Van Furniture was founded in 1959 on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit by Art Van Elslander. From there, the store grew to over 100 in the course of six decades.

In January 2017, Art Van announced that the company was being sold to a private equity firm, Thomas H. Lee. 

By the time of the sale, the company had grown to more than 100 stores across five states. 

"My family is heartbroken by the loss of our father," Gary Van Elslander, his oldest son, said in a press release on Monday.

Van Elslander was born in Detroit in 1930 and was the son of a Belgian immigrant. He grew up in Detroit and sold papers and worked his father's bar. At the age of 14, he took a job working at a haberdashery, Square Menswear.

He graduated Denby High School in 1948 and served in the U.S. Army before returning home, getting married, and taking a job at Gruenwald Furniture. 

In 1959, he opened the Gratiot location the expanded into the empire it is today. 

In 1990, Detroit's Thanksgiving Day parade was in financial peril so he made a historic donation and saved the tradition. He rode in the parade and waved at onlookers for the next 25 years.

"The heartbeat of any organization is its people," said Van Elslander in a statement last year. "I am proud of Art Van Furniture's history and what we have accomplished. The time for an ownership transition is right and the opportunity presented itself. There is still much I want to do, and I feel confident knowing the company and its people will be in the very best of hands for continued growth and success."

Van Elslander was also very active in Catholic charities and gave an estimated $20 million to the Solanus Casey Center. 

Since being sold, the company said it planned to expand significantly and just opened a flagship store in Canton two weeks ago.

Funeral arrangements have not been made.

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