A man with many sides.
That describes the man that was Raymond L. Lutgert — a family man, a successful businessman, a man who gave endlessly to the community, a man who became an award-winning sculptor later in life.
Lutgert died Friday morning. He was 90.
By Naples standards, he was a pioneer. He’s left his mark in so many ways.
He’s the mastermind behind Park Shore. He helped start a specialized cancer center for the NCH Healthcare System. The College of Business at Florida Gulf Coast University carries his name, recognizing a $5 million gift from he and his wife, Beverly.
“He was always a serious business person. And a lot of people probably didn’t understand his personality, as well as I did. Sometimes, he could be kind of gruff and rough, but underneath it he had a soft spot in his heart for good causes,” said Earl Hodges, a former funeral director and the namesake of Hodges University.
Hodges first met Lutgert back in the 1960s.
“He was just always a gentleman and a great guy and had a sense of humor after you got to know him,” he said.
The Lutgert Cos., the development company Raymond Lutgert founded more than 40 years ago, continues to thrive today under the leadership of his son Scott Lutgert. Some of the company’s signature projects include the Mercato in North Naples and the Promenade in Bonita Springs. Other projects include the Northern Trust building and the Neapolitan Way shopping center in Naples.
Over the years, the Lutgert Cos. has branched out, adding insurance, title and mortgage companies. Premier Properties of Southwest Florida Inc. is its real estate division.
“I know that Ray was very instrumental in developing many communities in the area. As so many of our ‘old timers’ pass away, I feel Naples will never be quite the same,” said Mardi Moorman, who worked with her father in real estate and development for nearly 40 years in Naples before retiring a few years ago.
Her father, William B. Stone, who built more than 2,500 homes in Collier County, died on May 14. He was 93.
“Ray and my dad were from the generation of builders always looking out for Neapolitans and the beauty of our community ,” Moorman said.
Raymond Lutgert was born in Chicago in 1919. Building was in his blood. He worked at his father’s building materials yard and he got into real estate development in the 1940s.
After moving to Naples in 1964 to “retire,” Lutgert saw an opportunity to develop 760 acres of barren land north of Naples that became Park Shore – a picturesque community that includes beach-front homes and high-rises and the waterfront shopping center, Village on Venetian Bay.
Long-time Naples Mayor Bill Barnett lived south of Park Shore as it was developing. At the time, many thought Lutgert was crazy for developing anything that far from “town,” or “in the woods.”
“I remember when they put the lots on the market,” Barnett said. “And they offered great deals on them and people bought them.”
John R. Wood, who founded John R. Wood Realtors in Naples in 1958, recalls doing business with Lutgert years ago, and selling some of his beach-front lots in Park Shore.
“He had a heart of gold as far as I was concerned,” Wood said. “He always helped me.”
Wood remembers questioning Lutgert’s plans for Park Shore because it seemed “a little far out.” He laughs at that today.
In his eyes, Lutgert has been one of the most successful businessmen in Naples.
“I thought the world of him,” Wood said. “He was a great man.”
He remembers Lutgert selling lots for beach-front homes for $100,000 or less.
Park Shore may be Lutgert’s most visible legacy, but his name seems to be everywhere you look in Naples.
“He was an icon for Naples. He had a very positive impact on today’s Naples,” Barnett said.
Lutgert’s sculptures are found all around Naples and at Florida Gulf Coast University. They include the “Genesis,” a modern, mirrored statue in front of the Northern Trust building, and “Human Race,” a 24-foot stainless steel piece at The Village on Venetian Bay, with a replica at the Lutgert building at FGCU.
Lutgert took an interest in sculpturing at 65. He took a class at Appalachian State University in North Carolina and studied with noted American sculptor Wayne Trapp. Over the years, he created several hundred pieces, winning numerous awards.
Wilson Bradshaw, Florida Gulf Coast University’s president, called Raymond Lutgert’s death devastating for the community.
“What I will always remember is his very quick wit,” Bradshaw said. “It’s very sad news for us.”
In January 2007, the Edison College Foundation honored Raymond and Scott Lutgert with its LIFE Award, which recognizes leadership in advancing educational opportunities. It was the first time the award went to a father and son. A “who’s who” of business leaders gathered for the luncheon in their honor.
A few days earlier, Raymond Lutgert had made a record $2 million bid at the Naples Winter Wine Festival auction, winning a 2008 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drop convertible. The annual auction raises millions for children’s charities in Collier County every year.
After taking the stage to receive the crystal torch-shaped LIFE award, Lutgert brought up his bid, which became the buzz at the event.
“Everybody is telling me congratulations for buying the car,” he said. “That isn’t what it was all about, of course.”
He said it was about giving back to the community. In fact, he said, he had already ordered the same model and make from a dealer, but decided he’d bid on it when he saw the manufacturer offering it at the auction.
After getting into a bidding war at the auction, he paid more than four times the value of the car.
“I can say I kind of cursed the buyer that bid against me,” he said. “I didn’t feel that kindly toward him,” he told the crowd of about 350 who gathered in a hotel ballroom at The Naples Grande Resort to honor him and his son.
“The moral of that story is to give to your community, help your community,” he said.
Bruce Sherman, who is a co-chair of the 2011 Naples Winter Wine Festival along with his wife, Cynthia, felt a pang of sadness when he learned of Lutgert’s death.
“He was a visionary in Naples,” he said. “I live in one of his buildings. He was a great sculptor and a great philanthropist.”
The Lutgert family has been leading supporters of the Naples Children & Education Foundation, which organizes the Naples Winter Wine Festival and gives out the grants every year to charities that benefit children.
Scott Lutgert has become a pillar in the community, just as his father was and that’s another legacy Raymond leaves behind, Sherman said.
“(Raymond) will be missed by a lot of folks,” he said. “Luckily for Naples, his son is carrying on the traditions and the good works that his dad started when they first came to Naples.”
In a letter to wine festival trustees on Friday, Scott Lutgert said his father died “peacefully.” He said his father’s wife, Beverly, called at 4 a.m. to say she was taking him to the emergency room.
Scott and his wife, Simone, saw his father on Thursday and had dinner with him last week.
“My father loved helping the community and was proud of our efforts to help the children of Collier County,” he wrote.
He shared a few comments with festival trustees about the comments he’d heard from others after they learned Raymond had died. One of those comments went this way: “Your father leaves a legacy of philanthropy, business leadership and educational innovativeness that will not be surpassed.”
Another mourner described him as “a bigger than life character.”
Arrangements have yet to be made.