Gerald A. “Gerry” Rauenhorst, whose Opus development company built many of the Twin Cities’ most prominent landmarks, died Thursday night.
Regarded as a visionary commercial real estate developer, Rauenhorst’s legacy includes the halo-topped Capella Tower in downtown Minneapolis and the Mariucci Arena at the University of Minnesota. Tackling projects coast to coast, he built a fortune that he and his family drew on to fund an extensive record in philanthropy.
Rauenhorst had struggled with a number of illnesses and died at his home in Edina with family members at his side. He was 86.
Rauenhorst maintained deep connections with his alma mater, the University of St. Thomas, which on Thursday said it regards Rauenhorst as “one of the most influential trustees and generous benefactors” in its history. His many awards over the years include two from the Vatican.
Born on a farm near Olivia, Minn., in 1927, Rauenhorst was one of eight children. His parents were tenant farmers who moved frequently when he was a small child. Rauenhorst once told a reporter he could remember walking with a horse-drawn wagon that held all of his family’s possessions.
Rauenhorst worked his way through the College of St. Thomas, as it was known then, where he met his wife, Henrietta “Hanky” Schmoll, then a student at the nearby College of St. Catherine. He went on to get a civil engineering degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee.
In 1953 he founded Rauenhorst Construction Co., which would evolve into Minnetonka-based Opus. At the start, the company’s headquarters were in the breezeway of the family’s Richfield house, and Hanky kept the books.
During the 1950s and 1960s Rauenhorst helped pioneer the design-build model of construction, one that relies on keeping a range of skills in-house, from architecture to engineering and construction, to better control the process and cost.
“He really was visionary,” said Tim Murnane, president and chief executive of Opus Holding LLC. “He saw things before other people did.”
Murnane recalled how Rauenhorst built some of the Twin Cities’ biggest business parks even before the highways were developed.
Murnane worked with Rauenhorst on the construction of Best Buy’s Richfield headquarters and the Ameriprise Financial Center in Minneapolis, and described Rauenhorst as a “tough but very fair” boss.
He said Rauenhorst largely retired from direct operations around 2007 but remained active.
Opus emerged from the real estate bust smaller and bruised from legal battles, but has bounced back and remains family owned.
In an obituary on the University of St. Thomas website, former school president the Rev. Dennis Dease said that Rauenhorst’s family and faith were “his two great loves.”
“For all his greatness — and he was truly a great man — he never came across as anything more than a common man and your next-door neighbor,” Dease was quoted as saying.
Rauenhorst is survived by his seven children: Judith Doerr, Mark Rauenhorst, Neil Rauenhorst, Joseph Rauenhorst, Michael Rauenhorst, Susan Turner and Amy Goldman; 21 grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. Hanky Rauenhorst died in 2010.
Daughter Amy Goldman, chairman and executive director of the Minnetonka-based GHR Foundation, said that her father directed that the bulk of his estate go to the GHR Foundation.
With a current annual grant budget of $20 million, the GHR Foundation is the largest of the family’s five foundations and focuses on health, including Alzheimer’s prevention, education and global development.
“Everything was an adventure for him,” Goldman said, recalling their many family vacations: “We’d always come back with pictures of tower cranes.”
Services will be held May 6 at Our Lady of Grace in Edina, with the time still to be determined.