Raymond Henry Rebsamen (1898–1975)
Raymond Henry Rebsamen was a Little Rock (Pulaski County) businessman who started a number of small businesses in different industries including insurance, printing, real estate, and automobile sales. Rebsamen was deeply involved in shaping the landscape of modern Little Rock through urban planning organizations like Metroplan, of which he was a founding member, and through his donations of land within the city for public use in sports, leisure, and education.
Raymond Rebsamen was born on April 8, 1898, in Lancaster, Texas, to William Frederick Rebsamen and Edna May Miller Rebsamen. The family moved to Fort Smith (Sebastian County), where Raymond and his younger brothers, Paul and Lloyd, were educated in the public schools.
Rebsamen attended the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), where he studied accounting, but his education was interrupted by World War I. In 1918, he left school for officer’s training at Camp Pike (now Camp Joseph T. Robinson). This was Rebsamen’s first experience with the city of Little Rock, which he viewed as “large and attractive,” despite having fewer than 50,000 residents at the time. Rebsamen served in the U.S. Army as a private during World War I. Upon returning from the war, Rebsamen married Elizabeth Purcell and settled in Little Rock in 1923. The couple had two children: Ruth Elizabeth and Frederick Raymond.
Rebsamen never finished his degree at UA but nonetheless became a certified public accountant in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, and eventually received a Distinguished Alumnus Citation from UA in 1960.
Upon settling in Little Rock, Rebsamen worked in banking, in accounting, and as a field auditor for the U.S. Treasury Department. As a public accountant for the Arkansas Gazette Publishing Company in 1927, he discovered that the company had been overpaying its federal income taxes for several years and struck up an agreement wherein he would receive a third of the refunds he was able to obtain on behalf of the publisher, which added up to $32,000 for Rebsamen.
In 1928, he opened Rebsamen and Brown Company, an insurance company, in the Home Insurance Building at 3rd and Center streets in downtown Little Rock. Two years later, it was renamed Rebsamen & East, Inc., and eventually Rebsamen Insurance, which was acquired by Regions Financial Corporation in 2001 for $40 million.
In Little Rock, Rebsamen started a number of small businesses, primarily focused on accounting, insurance (Providential Life Insurance Company, Rebsamen Insurance), real estate (Eagle Realty), and printing (Arkansas Printing and Lithography, International Graphics, Inc., Favorite Check Printers). These companies were organized under a holding company, Rebsamen Companies, Inc. (RCI), which at its peak held over twenty-five corporations started by Rebsamen, including a Ford dealership and Derco, Inc., an engine shop.
In 1942, Rebsamen once again enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving as a lieutenant colonel during World War II. Rebsamen and his wife divorced in 1947. Rebsamen married Martha Jane Dickinson in 1957.
Rebsamen expressed a strong sense of “civic and social obligation” and established the Rebsamen Fund, to which he expected his family and various enterprises to make annual contributions, in order that they might “consistently participate ratably in all worthwhile civic, religious, educational, fraternal and cultural community efforts,” as Rebsamen wrote toward the end of his life.
In 1947, Rebsamen donated eighty acres of his private hunting land to Little Rock Junior College for a new campus. This wooded area four miles south of Cammack Village (Pulaski County) was accessible by a gravel road called Hayes Street (now University Avenue). In 1949, Little Rock Junior College (which later became the University of Arkansas at Little Rock) relocated there from its 14th Street campus downtown, and the campus bears Rebsamen’s name. Rebsamen owned land on the other side of Hayes Street as well, and in 1953, developer Elbert Faucett purchased 190 acres from Rebsamen and began development of Broadmoor, the first suburban development of its kind in Little Rock, and possibly the first in the nation to be advertised with all homes having central heating and air. By 2020, Rebsamen’s hunting lodge at 19 ½ Belmont Drive was being used as a clubhouse for neighborhood association meetings.
In 1954, Rebsamen donated $30,000 to the City of Little Rock for a twenty-seven-hole municipal golf course close to the Arkansas River; the course still bears his name. In 1937, he purchased the Little Rock Zoo’s first elephant, Ruth, named after his daughter. In 1954, the zoo’s next elephant was named Ellen, after Rebsamen’s granddaughter, Ruth Ellen Remmel.
In 1955, Rebsamen joined the board of the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (Metroplan), an organization founded to coordinate the establishment of the Little Rock Air Force Base. In 1959, Rebsamen helped establish Urban Progress Association, Inc., a private nonprofit “to promote and support the principles of metropolitan planning and urban renewal,” and became its first president. The organization worked closely with the Chamber of Commerce and Metroplan to develop long-term plans for downtown Little Rock, some of which were brought to fruition.
At various times in his career, Rebsamen served as president of the Greater Little Rock Community Chest and of the Greater Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. He served on the board of directors for the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, ArkLa Gas, Dillard’s department stores, Arkansas Motor Coaches, and others.
A lifelong Democrat, Rebsamen contributed heavily to Democratic candidates for office in Arkansas and served as a delegate for four national conventions. In 1966, he ran for governor using the slogan “Reach with Rebsamen” but finished sixth out of seven candidates in the Democratic primary, with Republican Winthrop Rockefeller eventually winning the general election.
Rebsamen died on December 25, 1975, at a Memphis, Tennessee, hospital; he and his wife Martha had been visiting her family there for the Christmas holiday. Rebsamen is buried at Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock. One obituary described him as “a personable and genial man, one who had an appreciation for power but was not overcome by it,” praising his “cool and independent judgment, which he sometimes exercised to the displeasure of his peers in the establishment,” adding, “He was no crusader but he could not abide excessive liberties with common sense.” He was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame in 2009.
For additional information:
“Businessman and Civic Leader at Little Rock Dies at Age 77.” Arkansas Gazette, December 26, 1975, p. 1A.
Raymond Rebsamen Papers (UALR.MS.O263). Center for Arkansas History and Culture. University of Arkansas at Little Rock, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Arkansas State Archives
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