Treasure Trove

Through local firm’s Life Chests, people preserve memories, pass on personal legacies and family memorabilia to their loved ones


Published:

Regent from the Heritage Collection

Everyone has a story to tell — from life journeys and personal accomplishments to family history. And a Troy-based firm has developed a series of beautiful “treasure chests” in which to store those cherished memories.

“It’s about the stories that go into the Life Chest,” says Donna Yost, president and CEO of Life Chest. The company has several collections of the chests on display in their Troy showroom (and also online at thelifechest.com) — with versions for everyone from babies and students to special charity collections that help support causes including The Pink Fund and the military. 

Freedom from the Heirloom Collection

The idea behind the Life Chest began in Bangkok in the 1960s when Yost’s husband, Kim, was traveling throughout Asia and Europe as a 20-something furniture buyer. 

While in Bangkok, he met a supplier named Mr. C.C. who was showing him a rosewood logging factory in a region of Thailand. 

During a visit to C.C.’s house, he also showed Yost memorabilia about his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Among travel mementos, army medals, and photos was a journal that was more than 100 years old. These collectibles were safely stored in three beautifully hand-carved chests. Yost left Bangkok with his own hand-carved chest to fill with artifacts — and an idea for a product he wanted to share.

In 2000, he began Life Chest and pursued the venture for almost five years. However, the project was put on hold during a busy career that saw him eventually becoming CEO of Art Van Furniture in 2009 and moving from Canada to Michigan. But after Donna Yost ended her 25-year career as a dental representative, she decided to revive her husband’s idea in 2012. 

Yost found Michael Amini, an award-winning designer and manufacturer, to help make a product that’s both high quality and relatively affordable (most are under $1,000). Her first show was in October 2012.

Aside from providing heirloom quality products, she says the goal is also “to change lives or help people preserve their memories.”

It’s not just wood and bolts — a lot of time and thought goes into each chest. “It’s a lot of work back and forth,” she says. Compared to the original chests, new versions now have marble bottoms, premium hinges, picture frames, and combination locks.

One charitable version of the Life Chest came about while Yost was meeting with a manufacturer in Las Vegas. She spotted some men with Fort Bragg on the back of their jumpsuits; the All Veteran Parachute Team, which was renamed All Veteran Group in 2014, was performing with American Airlines. 

“[Yost] told me about the Life Chest and what it meant,” says Mike Elliott, founder and president of the North Carolina-based All Veteran Group. He saw it as an opportunity for not only his organization, but also for all veterans and their families. 

A retired member of the elite Golden Knights U.S. Army Parachute Team, Elliott works with the All Veteran Group’s Therapy in the Air program. It shows soldiers dealing with both physical and mental battles that they can still do great things. That’s especially key as suicide rates for current and ex-military vets exceed those of civilians. 

“In that moment — falling 14,000 feet, at 120 miles per hour toward Earth does something that is transformational,” he says. “It puts smiles on people’s faces that didn’t smile before.” 

The goal is to give the combat-injured soldiers a Life Chest at the end of their jumps. “They can put their memories in and they can talk about or expand on that day as something good,” Elliott says, adding that being able to talk about what they endured during their time in the service can be therapy within itself.

Yost visited North Carolina to see how Therapy in the Air affects veterans — and even experienced a jump herself. “It’s a feeling of total freedom and the most peaceful feeling that I have ever experienced mixed with awe,” she says. She was present last June when former President George H. W. Bush skydived to celebrate his 90th birthday. She presented him with his own Life Chest. 

Life Chest is looking for sponsors to help donate 100 Freedom chests to combat-injured troops. The Freedom chest has a distressed, charcoal finish and features six pewter seals representing each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. 

Yost hopes to get the word out about the Freedom Life Chest as well as to help other charities such as Jill’s Wish and The Pink Fund. “The more help we get, the more people we can help,” she says.

While helping others leave their mark in the world, Yost is leaving one herself. Both she and her husband have set aside Life Chests to pass down to their loved ones. Their personal chests are filled with letters, photos of family and friends, and travel keepsakes; career chests preserve their work life achievements and awards. 

From a simple idea, Yost says the Life Chest has evolved to become something for the past, present, and future. “It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” she says.


3331 W. Big Beaver Rd., Ste. 118, Troy. For more info, call 248-220-4978 or visit thelifechest.com.

Edit Module
Edit Module

Hour Detroit Magazine

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Archive »Related Content

An Hour With ... Richard Broder

Owner and CEO, Broder & Sachse Real Estate Inc.

The Way it Was

Packard Motor Car Company, 1912

Introducing the Nordin Brothers: The Duo Behind the Detroit Design Center

You may not know their names, but chances are, you've seen their art

Meet the Makers: Pingree Detroit

The brand is employing veterans to craft upcycled leather totes and journals

There's No Stopping Jill Jack

The Award-winning Detroit musician releases her 12th album — and starts a new artist development company
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Why Abdul El-Sayed's Run for Governor Is for Real
    Can a political rookie from Michigan become America's first Muslim governor?
  2. Female Entrepreneurs Are Staking Their Claim in Detroit
    These three women-owned businesses are unstacking the deck
  3. Michigan’s Craft Distilleries Are Setting Their Sights on Bourbon
    Proof that the best things require patience
  4. Inside the Resurrected Takoi
    The restaurant has survived arson and controversy to claim a top spot in Detroit's culinary scene
  5. The Era of Autonomous Vehicles May Be Here Sooner than Expected
    What does that mean for Detroit's legacy automakers?
  6. The Faces of Michigan Wine: Josh Morgan
    To say that 2017 was a pivotal year for Josh Morgan would be putting it mildly.
  7. Meet the Makers: Pingree Detroit
    The brand is employing veterans to craft upcycled leather totes and journals
  8. Introducing the Nordin Brothers: The Duo Behind the Detroit Design Center
    You may not know their names, but chances are, you've seen their art
  9. It's Game On for Detroit's 'Bar Arcade' Scene
    M-Brew, Pop + Offworld, and Ready Player One pair microbrews with retro video games
  10. What You Need to Know About Oil and Gas Drilling in the Suburbs
    Energy companies are staking out new territory in metro Detroit