In December, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra announced the largest individual gift in its 56-year history.
The gift came from the estate of Lee Ronnel, who died in January 2022 at age 85.
Christina Littlejohn, the orchestra’s chief executive officer, put it best that day when she said: “We’ve had good years and bad years. And through them all, there was Lee Ronnel.”
He was born June 16, 1936, in a Russian-speaking community in Shanghai. His name was Elias Itkis.
Ronnel, the founder of Little Rock’s Metal Recycling Corp., was a professionally trained pianist. For more than half a century, he supported ASO. He did everything from leading conductor search committees to chairing fundraising events with his wife of 61 years, Dale Ronnel.
“Lee understood the power of music and the arts to lift people up and bring them together,” Dale said.
ASO will use part of the money to create an endowment to operate the $9 million Stella Boyle Smith Music Center, an education and administration facility that will be built between the Clinton Presidential Center and Heifer International campus.
The rest of the funds will be used for the E. Lee Ronnel Music Academy, which will include everything from youth orchestras to string instruction.
We’ll have Lee Ronnel’s story in my column on the Voices page of Wednesday’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. I hope you’ll read it.