Originally posted on MyStatesman.

By Shonda Novak – American-Statesman Staff


Dick Rathgeber, one of Central Texas’ best known and most respected philanthropists, has a new title: Honorary Colonel.

The Salvation Army will confer that title — the first ever Honorary Colonel award in the State of Texas — and also inaugurate its “Doing the Most Good Award” at its annual luncheon meeting April 21 at the JW Marriott in Austin.

Both awards will go to Rathgeber, 82, a Salvation Army Advisory Board member who for decades has played a pivotal role in carrying out the nonprofit organization’s mission in the Austin region.

The Honorary Colonel recognition is one of the highest honors a non-Salvation Army officer can receive. There have been only seven recipients of the award worldwide in the organization’s 150-year history.

One was Colonel Harland Sanders of Shelbyville, Ky., the late founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In addition to the new honors, Rathgeber in prior years received three of the four top awards given by the Salvation Army national organization, the only person worldwide to have done so.

Locally, Rathgeber has swept a host of honors through the years, including being named Austinite of the Year. He and his wife, Sara Rathgeber, also received the Philanthropist of the Year award in 2008, Austin’s Most Worthy Citizen award in 2008 and Austin’s Best Citizen award in 2007. In July, they will have been married for 56 years.

The Rathgebers have given generously of their time, money and efforts to many causes. But Dick Rathgeber says the Salvation Army is one especially near and dear — taking care of those in greatest need, those whom the Bible calls “the least of these.”

“The Salvation Army is doing the most good by feeding the hungry, clothing those who need it, providing housing and helping hundreds of people get back on their feet again,” says Rathgeber, co-chairman of the Army’s current capital campaign. “The Salvation Army fills a real need.”

Rathgeber, a local developer (of Avery Ranch, Lost Creek and others) and son of a Lutheran minister, became involved with the Salvation Army in the 1970s, and has served in numerous board capacities both locally and nationally.

In the 1980s, the Rathgebers made a significant land donation to the Salvation Army that paved the way for its downtown shelter to be built. They donated two-thirds of the cost of the downtown site. It was their first major gift.

In East Austin, they recently purchased land from Travis County, 7.6 acres that are located next to the existing Austin Shelter for Women and Children on Tannehill Lane, which the Salvation Army operates.

The Rathgebers have donated that land to the Salvation Army, which will allow the organization to greatly expand its emergency shelter for homeless women and children.

Together, the downtown and Tannehill locations provide shelter and support services to more than 320 people a day.

As part of the group’s recent capital campaign, the Rathgebers donated property appraised at $1 million for a new Salvation Army Area Command and Corps Community Center, and they also pledged $1 million toward the project.

The new Area Command and Community Center will be off Manor Road in East Austin at Rathgeber Village, where the Rathgebers donated land, raised money for and built new facilities for the Austin Children’s Shelter for abused and neglected children, and where they have congregated other social service agencies as well.

“When Dick is confronted with a roadblock, he finds a way to get over, under it or around it to accomplish his goal,” said Lt. Col. Henry Gonzalez, the Salvation Army’s Austin area commander. “Dick is an amazing man who has a big heart and is willing to share what he has with others so that Austin will be a better community.”

Along with the Salvation Army and the Austin Children’s Shelter, the Rathgebers also have been benefactors to People’s Community Clinic, the Settlement Home, SafePlace, Manos de Cristos, Meals on Wheels, the Rise School of Austin, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Helping Hand Home for Children.

They also have established 10 hospitality houses in various cities. In Honduras, they helped build more than 300 houses and donated a fire truck and ambulance in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

For all his considerable accomplishments, both charitable and civic — he’s a big part of the reason Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas landed at the Mueller development in East Austin — Rathgeber isn’t letting his latest award go to his head.

“I told Sara she doesn’t have to learn how to salute,” he said with his trademark hearty chuckle.