Remembering a leader: Opus’ Gerry Rauenhorst gave back to his community, profession

Gerry Rauenhorst

Gerry Rauenhorst

by Dan Rafter

When Tim Murnane first began working at Minnetonka-based The Opus Group in 1984, he didn’t have to look far to find a pro on which to model his own commercial real estate career.

Gerry Rauenhorst, the founder of Minneapolis-based The Opus Group, was right there, after all.

“I’ve had a chance to be part of the Opus family for a long period of time. Gerry was always the best role model any of us could have,” Murnane said. “He was a unique individual. He had the benefit of a construction background and he was an extremely talented developer. He was very entrepreneurial. You couldn’t have asked for a better role model in the commercial real estate business.”

Murnane is far from alone. Members of the commercial real estate industry in and around the Twin Cities remember Rauenhorst, who passed away on April 24 at the age of 86, as a leader not just in his profession but in his community, too. Rauenhorst spent countless hours, working for charitable and professional organizations, helping to make the Twin Cities a better place.

“Gerry was passionate about his communities,” Murnane said. “He was always giving back to the communities in which he did business. It was something that set the culture for his company.”

As an example, Murnane pointed to April 25. That day is Founder’s Day at Opus, in memory of the day on which Rauenhorst back in 1953 signed his first real estate contract. During this day, Opus employees perform volunteer work. On April 25, workers spent their time tackling construction projects for Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s our way of giving back to the community. And it’s something that Gerry really emphasized when he built Opus,” Murnane said.

Rauenhorst and his wife, Henrietta, he preceded him in death.

Rauenhorst and his wife, Henrietta, he preceded him in death.

Rauenhorst, in addition to his charitable work, long had the entrepreneurial spirit, too, forming his own real estate business, which eventually became Opus, in 1953. The breezeway of his home served as the company’s first headquarters.

From these small beginnings, The Opus Group has grown into a family of commercial real estate development, construction and design companies headquartered in the Minneapolis area with eight additional locations. The Opus Group boasts hundreds of employees and millions of square feet of completed real estate projects across the country.

Rauenhorst was a pioneer of the design-build method. That construction method is common today, but was an innovation when Rauenhorst first started relying on it.

“The word gets used so much, but I do look at him as a visionary figure in our industry,” Murnane said. “He really was one of the pioneers of the design-build process. He brought in architects and engineers. He created this design-build approach, bringing in all this expertise in one place. It really was revolutionary for the industry. Today, it’s a model used by a lot of people.”

Companies that Rauenhorst founded developed corporate headquarters for Best Buy Corporation, ConAgra and Gavilon, among others. His companies also developed the Nic on Fifth, the first luxury high-rise apartment community to hit downtown Minneapolis in 30 years, and more than 50 buildings on university campuses across the nation.

Rauenhorst was known, too, for his philanthropy. He founded a group of family philanthropies that include the GHR Foundation, the Better Way Foundation, Enkel Foundation, Opus Foundation and Opus Prize Foundation. These grant-making organizations invest in closing the achievement gap through Catholic education, providing early childhood education and investing in community revitalization.

Rauenhorst was a founding member of the Minnesota Keystone Program and the Papal Foundation and a leader of the Minneapolis Suburban Serra Club, Serra International and the Knights of Columbus. He was also an adviser to Sogang Jesuit College in Seoul, South Korea.

Rauenhorst 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. He enjoyed creating pottery, exploring new gadgets and spending time at the lake with his grandchildren.

Rauenhorst 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. 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.

Services will be held at Our Lady of Grace in Edina, Minn., on May 6.

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