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.
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 visitthelifechest.com.