Philantropic endeavors defined a visionary

Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Marty and Elise Roenigk recently posed on the grounds of the Crescent Hotel with their faithful companion, Aine, an Irish Setter.

By Jerry Dupy

and E.Alan Long

Carroll County News

EUREKA SPRINGS -- Residents of Marty Roenigk's adopted hometown reacted to the news of his death with shock and disbelief.

Roenigk, 68, who died in a two-vehicle accident Thursday evening while on a trip to Iowa with his wife, Elise, was remembered for his positive impact on the city since the couple's move here in 1996.

Roenigk was a highly successful business entrepreneur and hotelier. In a city defined by its artistic community and historic architecture, he is remembered for his philanthropic efforts which were directed towards support of the arts, land conservation, and historic conservation.

Jack Moyer, vice president of Operations and Development for the Crescent and Basin Park Hotels, owned by the Roenigks, said that Marty Roenigk's passing is "obviously a great loss to us," citing his influence and support in restoring the two hotels and the City Auditorium.

"For everything they did publicly for their community, there were two or three more big-hearted acts that happened anonymously," Moyer said. "He loved Eureka Springs and did whatever it took to help this community. If you think of the fact that he was here just a little over a decade, and look at the impact he has had, it is surprising. It's tough to find a person like that who had the impact he has had."

On a more personal level, Moyer says that Roenigk spoke of "Jack's plan and my money," and that they certainly had an aggressive and fruitful partnership. But really, he said, there were only two partners, Marty and Elise.

Roenigk had three things he was really passionate about, Moyer said: Preservation, not just of what he owned but of Eureka Springs; the interest he and Elise had in mechanical music which they shared throughout their entire life together; and Elise herself.

"People who know them as Marty and Elise together saw them as inseparable," Moyer said. "It was interesting to see him when Elise was out of town. Marty was not in his element and really was uncomfortable. They really made a neat team."

Eureka Springs Mayor Dani Joy said of Roenigk's death, "It's a huge shock, and I think its going to be -- oh God, I don't know what to say. It's something you don't expect to happen. He has given so much time and support into the community, that it's such a huge loss."

Joy added that for the city she extends the deepest sympathy to Elise.

In 2007, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Roenigk's purchase of the Crescent, a gala event was held to celebrate their preservation efforts. Third United States Congressional District's Rep. John Boozman delivered a keynote address that emphasized the importance of visionaries like the Roenigks to "foster history through an incredible vision of the future -- to see decades beyond and to preserve America's precious resource."

In an emotional address to the crowd, Marty Roenigk emphasized the need for economic sustainability to keep the "grand dames" such as the 1886 Crescent Hotel and downtown Basin Park hotel as living entities that will endure and persevere through the ages "even after we are gone."

In an article published in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Feb. 25, 2007, Marty Roenigk stated that he wanted to leave a legacy behind in Eureka Springs. The article stated, "After he's gone, Roenigk wants to know he helped save the historic 19th century buildings by taking the city in a more modern direction." Unfortunately his work-in-progress became a legacy on the evening of June 18 when Roenigk and his beloved Irish Setter Aine (AHN-yah) were killed in a two-vehicle accident on a rural road outside of Griswold, Iowa.

"Twelve years ago Marty Roenigk stood before a historic, five-story, limestone building that was in much need of repair, in much need of love and he told me -- with his wife Elise at his side -- that someone needed to protect these kind of irreplaceable assets. It was on that day that the redevelopment of both the 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa and the 1905 Basin Park Hotel began," said Jack Moyer, remembering that first day's meeting.

"His words were so memorable that one of the three tenets found in the mission statement of our two hotels is 'Protecting The Irreplaceable,'" Moyer added.

Roenigk, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and his wife first came to Eureka Springs from East Hampton, Conn. in 1997 in search of a repository for their mechanical music boxes, a passion of theirs and the reason for their trip to Iowa. While investigating the Basin Park Hotel for not only their music boxes but also a place to live and retire, they were introduced to the Crescent Hotel. Two purchases and restoration investment in excess of $10 million later, the two hotels have been restored to their former grandeur and collectively are one of the biggest employers in western Carroll County.

Roenigk was named Eureka Springs' "Man of the Year" in 2001. In that presentation he was praised for his local philanthropy and support in such areas as the redevelopment of the 65 local natural springs and for his providing the seed money and impetus for the securing of the Save America's Treasures grant that restored the city's 1929 civic auditorium.

Roenigk did not rest on his laurels, however. Since receiving that honor, he and Elise have been philanthropic vanguards for such entities as the local chapter of the American Cancer Society; Eureka Springs' May Festival of the Arts; Main Stage Creative Community Center; Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow, donating a historic home to them; Harmon Skate Park; Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge; Western Carroll County's Carnegie Library and its annual Books-In-Bloom writers celebration; Eureka Springs School of the Arts; as well as supporting dozens of local artists through commissioned or purchased works of art.

The Nature Conservancy also benefitted from the Roenigks' generosity when Marty and Elise donated more than 1,200 prime, pristine acres of land near the Buffalo National River. "Again, it was another gesture toward preservation and protecting the irreplaceable," said Moyer.

His noted and well-respected business acumen saw him in top management for such well-known companies as Travelers Insurance, and CompuDyne, Inc., an international conglomerate that was ranked 10th in 2001 in Fortune Magazine's "Top 100 Fastest Growing Small Companies." He was also instrumental in such other businesses as Moffatt and Company, a custom minting operation; Thermo Energy, a developer of innovative water treatment and clean energy technologies; Eureka Aero, a prototype development aerospace company; and Mechantiques, the country's largest dealer in mechanical musical instruments.

His passion for preservation saw him purchase such local area historical gems as War Eagle Mill, a working water-powered grist mill that produces organic natural products; and the 1901 Gavioli Chapel, a restored limestone church used now as a wedding chapel and local live-theatre venue.

In the closing accolades of Roenigk's 2001 award presentation it was stated, "Our man of the year is an active citizen ... but not a noisy one. He is a preservationist, a philanthropist, a lover of his Irish Setter, and the soul mate of his wife Elise. Anyone who knows this quiet Cleveland native knows that of all his corporations his business of today is making Eureka Springs as great as it potentially can be. Why? Simply because he loves his new hometown."

Moyer put the feelings of Marty's hotel family and numerous members of the community in perspective, "We will miss this gentle man who loved so deeply and cared for his community so greatly. And when the modern history of Eureka Springs is written Marty Roenigk will be noted as one of those who started the 21st century renaissance of this historic little Arkansas Ozark town."

Final arrangements are incomplete at this time.

Bill Ott contributed to this report.

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