In Memoriam: Gerald A. Rauenhorst, 1927-2014

4/25/2014
Rauenhorst, Gerald A. Gerry Rauenhorst, a business leader with a steadfast commitment to God, family and The Opus Group passed away peacefully on Thursday, April 24, 2014. Fueled by unwavering optimism, Gerry demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and a commitment to finding a better way to build a business, community and a value-centered life. Respected for his quiet humility, Gerry was a dedicated husband to his wife Henrietta (Hanky) of 60 years, a devoted father and loyal friend.

Born in Olivia, Minn., in 1927, the son of tenant farmers and one of eight children, Gerry began his business career at age 6 selling sweet corn at a busy highway intersection near the family farm. Gerry learned early practical lessons about the necessity of hard work and faith, anchoring his life on the words of St. Augustine: “I shall work as if everything depended on me; I shall pray as if everything depended on God.”

Gerry attended St. Thomas College, graduating in 1948 with a degree in economics in just three years. While at St. Thomas, he invited Hanky Schmoll, a girl from the College of St. Catherine and a neighboring farming community, to the Tiger Homecoming Dance. That date launched a lifetime together. The couple was married in 1950 and spent the next six decades raising seven children, building a business and living out their shared commitment to Catholic social values.

In 1951 Gerry earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Marquette University where he was concurrently a student and an assistant professor. Convinced that it was possible to succeed in business while maintaining a strong ethical code, he started his own business in 1953 with the company’s headquarters in the breezeway of his growing family’s home.

From that initial leap of faith, The Opus Group has grown today into a family of commercial real estate development, construction and design companies headquartered in Minneapolis with eight additional locations, hundreds of employees and millions of square feet of completed projects nationwide. An early visionary, Gerry served as a pioneer of the design-build method, taking a vertically integrated approach to real estate development. Fueled by his tenacity and hard work, companies Gerry founded developed corporate headquarters for Best Buy Corporation, ConAgra, Gavilon, the Medtronic Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management office complex, The Nic on Fifth™ in downtown Minneapolis and more than 50 buildings on university campuses across the country.

With an enduring belief that business has a responsibility to strengthen society, Gerry started a group of family philanthropies that today include GHR Foundation, The Better Way Foundation, Enkel Foundation, Opus Foundation and Opus Prize Foundation. Together these independent grantmaking organizations invest in closing the achievement gap through Catholic education, offering early childhood education in low-income communities and countries, providing stability for children in families, investing in community revitalization and other life-changing causes.

As a careful steward and committed community member, Gerry was a trusted advisor to the University of St. Thomas, forming close partnerships with three presidents and contributing to the vision of the law school, Minneapolis campus and other strategic investments. He was the longest serving member of the Marquette University Board of Trustees with a 30-year tenure and received the University’s Alumnus of the Year Award in 1969, the College of Engineering Alumni Award in 1974, and an Honorary Doctorate in 2001.

Gerry was a founding member of the Minnesota Keystone Program and the Papal Foundation, a leader of the Minneapolis Suburban Serra Club, Serra International, and the Knights of Columbus, as well as an advisor to Sogang Jesuit College in Seoul, South Korea. He served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis from 1990 to 1995 and in 2005 he was named Outstanding Individual Philanthropist of the Year by the Minnesota Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Pope Paul VI named Gerry a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 1965, and John Paul II named him a Knight of St. Gregory in 1983.

Professionally Gerry’s accomplishments have been widely recognized. In 1974, he was awarded a Distinguished Engineering Award from Marquette University for the innovative design-build business model. That work was later recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Design Build Institute of America. In 1992, the company he founded was named Developer of the Year by NAIOP, the leading commercial real estate development association. Gerry was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award from Ernst & Young in 1997 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota in 2005. In 2010, he was inducted into the Real Estate Hall of Fame at the Shenehon Center for Real Estate at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.

Gerry was a visionary in business and an adventurer at heart. To have a healthy supply of materials for building models, he encouraged his young children to eat as many popsicles as they could. He also opened the doors of the world to his family through trips across the American South in the family station wagon and to see the great artistic masterpieces of Europe. Gerry enjoyed creating pottery, exploring new gadgets and spending time at the lake with his grandchildren.

Gerry is preceded in death by his beloved wife Henrietta Schmoll Rauenhorst; parents Henry Theodore Rauenhorst and Margaret Keltgen Rauenhorst; his seven siblings William, Muriel, George, Jerome, Henry, James, Robert, and his infant son Gerald Anthony Rauenhorst Jr. Gerry’s enduring legacy is his family. He is survived by his seven children, Judith (Lee) Doerr, Mark (Karen) Rauenhorst, Neil (Becky) Rauenhorst, Joseph Rauenhorst, Michael (Margaret) Rauenhorst, Susan (Jeff) Turner, Amy (Philip) Goldman, 21 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Visitation will be Monday, May 5 from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church, Edina, Minn. Funeral Mass will be Tuesday, May 6 at 10 a.m., with visitation one hour prior to the Mass. Memorials are preferred to the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, Marquette University’s College of Engineering Opus Scholars program, the Mayo Clinic’s Center on Aging or a charity of the donor's choice.