Ray Russenberger

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Ray Russenberger
Born August 20, 1954
Little Rock, Arkansas
Occupation Entrepreneur, developer, restaurateur
Spouse Cynthia Steltenkamp (1976?-1993)
Valerie Russenberger (1994-present)
Children Rhett, Rachel, Lauren, Stephanie & Sara Beth

Ray Dean Russenberger (b. 1954) is an entrepreneur and developer who founded (and later sold) telecommunication companies Network Paging, Network USA and Network Telephone. He has been integral to a number of Pensacola real estate developments, most notably the Palafox Pier project and Thiesen Building renovation in downtown Pensacola.

In 1996 Russenberger founded Marina Management, which operates the Palafox Pier and Bahia Mar Marinas and owns the Oar House restaurant. In 2004 he unsuccessfully ran for the Pensacola City Council At Large seat occupied by Jack Nobles.

Ray is married to Valerie Russenberger. The couple is known for their philanthropy and patronage of the arts, having established the charitable Russenberger Foundation in 1997,[1] and for their 128-foot Northcoast yacht, the Lady Val, which they frequently make available for community fundraisers. Ray has five children from a previous 17-year marriage to Cynthia Steltenkamp.

Early life & education[edit]

Russenberger was born in 1954 in Little Rock, Arkansas. His father was a clerk for Reynolds Metal, and his mother was a cashier at Kroger. He developed a love of boating from fishing with his father on Arkansas lakes. He graduated from Benton High School and attended Ouachita Baptist University and Louisiana State University, but did not finish with a degree. He claims to have bounced between 27 different jobs before deciding to venture out on his own.

Telecommunications career[edit]

After a stint working for Motorola, Russenberger sold his house in 1984 and founded Network Paging in Lafayette with five other investors. His startup capital was the $5,000 from the sale of his house and $8,000 left to him by his father. The business was extremely successful, and when it split its services in 1989, Russenberger relocated with his family to Pensacola and set up offices on Zaragoza Street. There he started a new venture, Network USA, and continued to run Network Paging until 1991, when he sold it for $4 million.

Starting with only 13 employees, Network USA quickly became one of the nation's fastest-growing telecoms and was listed on Inc. magazine's "Fastest Growing Top 500 Private Companies" in 1994 (#156) and 1995 (#350). In a $77 million deal, Network USA merged with Nashville-based A+ Communications in 1995. The resulting company, A+ Network, was sold to Metrocall in 1996 for $335 million. At the time, the company had 1,500 employees, 300 of them in Pensacola. Local investors received about $15 million in bonuses and options from the merger and sale.

In 1998, Russenberger founded Network Telephone to compete directly with BellSouth. The endeavor experienced rapid growth, reaching an annual revenue of $65 million with a customer base of 17,000 households in eight states. The company had over 500 employees in 2004, most of them in Pensacola, when they entered talks to merge with ITC DeltaCom and Florida Digital Network, causing many employees to resign. The plans were abandoned in December 2004,[2] but on January 11, 2005, Russenberger announced nearly 70 additional layoffs needed, he said, to make the company "cash-positive."[3]

In October 2005, Talk America announced that it would purchase Network Telephone for an undisclosed amount.[4] The acquisition was completed on January 4, 2006.[5] Talk America was itself bought by Cavalier Telephone later that year for $251 million.[6]

Real estate development[edit]

Russenberger purchased the historic Thiesen Building for $200,000 in 1992, then spent around $3.5 million renovating it for the Network USA headquarters.

Palafox Pier

In 1995, the City of Pensacola sought a development partner to help revitalize the area at the southern end of Palafox Street. The resulting project, Palafox Pier, was heavily funded by Russenberger, who paid $1 million to lease the land[7] and around $17 million to construct the 92-slip marina and four mixed-use structures totaling 90,000 square feet. The city contributed $2.4 million for the infrastructure, breakwater and parking lot, plus a $1.2 million state grant for other improvements and a pledge to demolish Bayfront Auditorium and replace it with a public park.[8]

Palafox Pier was originally intended to house retail tenants on the ground floor,[9] but with the rapid growth of Network Telephone during construction, Russenberger hinted he would probably use the space for his own company. CRA director Jennifer Fleming said at the time, "we don't have anything that specifically says he needs to put retail in those buildings."[10]

Politics & philanthropy[edit]

Electoral history[edit]

Pensacola City Council, 2004[edit]

This election was held November 2, 2004. Pensacola City Council races are non-partisan.

John W. "Jack" Nobles (i) 15,505 59.2%
Ray Russenberger 10,688 40.8%


  • Ginny Graybiel. "The Renaissance Man." Pensacola News Journal, December 10, 2000.
  • Taris Savell. "Russenbergers are living their dreams." Pensacola News Journal, April 1, 2007.
  1. Russenberger Foundation, Inc. at SunBiz.org
  2. "Network telecom merger canceled." Pensacola News Journal, December 29, 2004.
  3. "Network Telephone cuts jobs." Pensacola News Journal, January 12, 2005.
  4. "Talk America to Acquire Network Telephone." Business Wire, October 19, 2005.
  5. "Talk America announces completion of acquisition of Network Telephone." Telecomworldwire, January 5, 2006.
  6. Cavalier enters into agreement to acquire Talk America
  7. "Palafox Pier part of city's urban vision." Pensacola News Journal, June 24, 2000.
  8. http://www.inweekly.net/article.asp?artID=912
  9. "Waterfront idea comes together." Pensacola News Journal, October 10, 1999.
  10. "Palafox Pier complex fills quickly." Pensacola News Journal, March 17, 2000.