Spirit of Life® Honorees
Art Van Furniture
Kim Yost joined Art Van Furniture in October 2009. During his time at the company, the Art Van leadership team opened several new full-line Art Van and Art Van PureSleep stores and set all-time sales records for mattresses and single-day store sales. The team also enjoyed record sales for the day after Christmas, New Year’s Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. All of these combined created significant increases in both written and delivered sales since Yost joined the company.
Prior to Art Van Furniture, Yost spent 13 years at The Brick, Canada's largest furniture, mattress, appliance and electronics retailer. He was the driving force behind the development of 30 specialty mattress stores and developed a program called Home Show Canada, an Asian direct-buying service called First Ocean and produced "Brick Tube" to communicate with the employees.
Under his leadership as CEO, sales at The Brick soared from $900 million to $1.7 billion in just six years. Yost has spent over 30 years in the retail industry in Canada, with experience in sales, marketing, operations and executive management with a number of organizations, including Wosk's, Foot Locker, Champs Sports and Woodward’s.
Samuel Kuo and Grace Liu
Samuel Kuo and Grace Liu are co-founders of Samson Holding LTD, a publicly traded company based in Hong Kong. Samuel serves as chief executive officer and chairman of the board, and Grace is executive director of Samson and deputy chairman of the board. Samson is the parent company of Lacquer Craft manufacturing in China, and some of the furniture industry’s most prestigious brands, including Baker, Universal, Craftmaster, Legacy Classic, Lacquer Craft Hospitality, Grand Manor and Willis & Gambier (United Kingdom). Samson also has a substantial footprint in the Chinese furniture retail industry with several different brands.
The Lius were born in Taiwan and moved to China in the early 1990s to create Lacquer Craft, one of the first export-oriented furniture manufacturing facilities in China. Lacquer Craft soon became a pioneer in the industry, launching the first OEM bedroom manufacturing facility, developing largest automated storage retrieval system (ASRS) with over 4,000 container capacity, and expanding into a U.S. marketing company, Legacy Classic, with a vertically integrated business model.
Outside of the furniture industry, the Lius have significant investments in real estate, including the tallest commercial skyscraper in Dong Guan, a state-of-the-art medical facility with over 300 beds in Tai Xin, a luxury hotel and a shopping mall.
Samuel Liu is a graduate of Tamkang University, with a Bachelor of Science from the Department of Economic Development. He enjoys wine and playing golf, and was inducted into the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame in 2017. Grace Liu is a graduate of Soochow University, with a Bachelor of English Literature. She enjoys traveling, music and movies. They have two children, Mike and Wendy, and one grandchild, Melia. The Lius have been constant supporters of many different charities in China, Taiwan and the U.S., including City of Hope.
2018 Spirit of Life® Lifetime Achievement Award
Art Van Eslander
Art Van Furniture | Van Elslander Capital
Art Van Elslander’s legacy as a leader in the furniture industry began in 1959 when he opened the doors to a modest 4,000-square-foot store on Gratiot Avenue in East Detroit, and was its sole employee. When he sold the company to TH Lee in early 2017, Van Elslander had expanded the company to five states, with more than 100 store locations. With nearly 4,000 associates, it was one of the largest independent furniture retailers in the United States.
Having built his company with the philosophy that “buildings are just brick and mortar, but the heartbeat of any organization is its people,” Van Elslander’s generosity, business savvy and groundbreaking practices had earned him the loyalty of his employees and the respect of the furniture industry. His business accomplishments have been highlighted with countless awards and honors. He has been inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame, and is a prior recipient of City of Hope's Spirit of Life®Award. In 2017, he was named by Furniture Today as one of the "40 Most Influential People" in the furniture industry.
After selling Art Van Furniture, Van Elslander opened Van Elslander Capital, based in Birmingham, Michigan. The investment firm has a diverse portfolio, with emphasis on early-stage investments.
One of Michigan’s most prominent and respected businessmen, Van Elslander is also one of its most beloved philanthropists. He is credited with saving Michigan’s iconic Thanksgiving Day Parade from financial ruin in 1990, and remained an integral part of ensuring its continued success. In 2009, Van Elslander started the Art Van Charity Challenge. By the time the company was sold just eight years later, the program had raised over $22 million for more than 350 charities. For the nearly six decades he led Art Van Furniture, and his generosity benefited countless communities throughout the Midwest.
Van Elslander is a major benefactor of Forgotten Harvest, Focus:HOPE, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Today, he continues to support charities in his home state of Michigan, in the areas of children, health and human services, through the A.A. Van Elslander Foundation. Its many charity partners include Benjamin’s Hope, the St. John Providence Health System, Sanctum House and The Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order, which is the recent recipient of a $20 million grant commitment for the expansion of the Solanus Casey Center in Detroit.