Tribute: Arts Supporter Frank Ronnenberg of Reader’s Digest

Frank Ronnenberg with Janet

Back in the old days, circa 1975, large and small corporations in Westchester got together to support the arts.  It was a point of pride, and,  yes,  civic engagement, that made it important to be part of the Westchester Arts Fund. Corporations, such as Texaco,  Pepsico, General Foods, IBM, Reader’s Digest and Ciba Geigy, among them, pledged hours of volunteer and financial support. Corporate executives would take turns leading the annual campaign.

Frank Ronnenberg, an executive with Reader’s Digest, who passed away last week,  was among them.   Frank’s contact with the arts was a daily one, as the Wallaces, founders of the Digest, amassed a huge art collection, which was displayed throughout the offices.  It was not uncommon to bump into a Modigliano in the hallway.  The belief was that having art in the workplace provided pleasure and inspiration to employees. Everyone can get the flavor of the corporate world at an exhibit about Reader’s Digest now at the Greeley House in Chappaqua.  But, I digress.

I first met Frank in 1991. I was living in Boston at the time running the Boston Center for the Arts and Frank was  chair of the search committee for an Executive Director of the Council for the Arts in Westchester, now known as ArtsWestchester.  The long and the short of it was that I became Executive Director and Frank became President of the Board.  From that moment, we were a team.  I will always  think of Frank as part of the team because he continued to keep in touch, the old fashioned way, by every now and then sending me a handwritten note.  He would comment on things the Arts Council was doing, introduce me to a colleague, send me a tidbit of advice or just pass along some information he thought I should know. Most recently, I got a call from Betty Brown, who moved back east from the west coast and told me that Frank Ronnenberg, her brother, told her to call.  I was so glad he did that as I might have lost touch with Frank.  It was Betty who called this week to tell me about Frank’s untimely passing.  I hope Betty and Frank’s lovely wife Mary Ellen will not forget that the Ronnenbergs are still part of the team.

“Reader’s Digest: The Local Magazine that Conquered the World” is appearing at The New Castle Historical Society, 100 King Street, Chappaqua, New York 10514, from February 2010 through January 2011. Museum hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, 1 – 4 pm.