Champions of local Jewish History


Lee Ratner StoryRatner was a son of a Chicago produce man, who started a mail-order business. He then ventured into pest control. By all accounts he was a brilliant advertising pioneer, investing wisely in public relations to promote his enterprises. His company Decon sold for $7 million in the early 1950’s. By 1952 he was the eighth largest user of TV advertising in USA, and needed to shelter some of his income. He bought the 18,000-acre, about 100 square miles, track of ranch land, which had been a private ranch in Lee County, and set it up as a tax shelter “Lucky Lee Ranch.” He built a small airstrip so that his friends from up north could come to hunt. Ratner planned to raise cattle and even paid a few workers to move from the north to the ranch and raise just enough alfalfa to feed the beef steers. However, making profit was not something Ratner had in mind at that time. His intent remained to create a tax shelter for himself.


Lee Ratner Story
Lee Ratner on Horseback

According to the story in Lehigh Acres Citizen published in 2009, Ratner’s brother-in-law, the late Jim Richmond of Lehigh, revealed before his death, that when he was Ratner’s foreman, “they had raised a good crop of alfalfa” sold it to nearby ranchers. Upon discovering that the normally calm and cool Ratner became upset and reminded Richmond the ranch was there to lose money. The Lehigh lore goes that Ratner wrote off years of losses.

In 1954, Ratner partnered up with Gerald Gould to build affordable homes for retirees. People from northern US and many Europeans wanted to come to Lehigh Acres to retire. A lot sold for $10 down and $10 a month, an idea created by Ratner, an early proponent of installment basis postwar housing. Lehigh Acres became one of the first retiree communities in Florida. In late 50s and 60s Ratner strategically foresaw that in order to create a thriving community, land needs to be set aside for schools, parks, churches and thus Temple Emmanuel was started at the parcel donated by Lee on the corner of Joel Blvd and 5th Street. It was dedicated in September 1970. Lehigh Corp, Ratner’s and Gould’s company, also paid to build the road to connect the new town to Fort Myers, known as Lee Boulevard. After selling the company in 1969, Ratner was disappointed that his successors never went through with the plans and ideas he and Gould had for the company. He left the region, disillusioned, dying c. 2000.

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