Influential N.O. businessman David Voelker dies

David Voelker, a New Orleans businessman who took on a prominent role in state rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Katrina, died Tuesday of complications following a lung transplant. He was 60.

Active on a variety of nonprofit boards in the metro area, Voelker was tapped in January 2006 by then Gov. Kathleen Blanco to serve on the Louisiana Recovery Authority, created to set the state’s post-storm policies. He later became chairman of the powerful panel.

At one time, Voelker was a prolific political contributor, favoring national Republican party causes but giving to Louisiana politicians on both sides of the aisle. In 2007, he helped broker an agreement that led to the city and state putting up more than $2 million to pay off a civil rights judgment that threatened to bankrupt the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office.

A large man who friends described as jovial and generous, Voelker became a crusader for rebuilding New Orleans after Katrina. Nick Mueller, president of The National World War II Museum, said Voelker was serving as chairman of the museum’s board when the storm hit in 2005. Despite financial challenges, Voelker led the charge to move forward with plans to expand the museum.

“He helped to guide me and the board through those terrible times, at a time when the survival of the museum was really at stake,” Mueller said. He described Voelker as instrumental in securing the public and private money that paid for initial expansions.

Among the projects for which Voelker will be remembered is the Miracle League, a baseball league at Audubon Park for children with various special needs that now has about 250 participants.

Gina Lorio, the league’s executive director, recalled that Voelker flew to Conyers, Ga., where the concept originated, and returned saying: “We need to do this here.”

Voelker helped raise private money for the league, along with getting the Audubon Institute to donate the land for a special field. Once it was done, Lorio said, Voelker liked to go to the field, watch the children play and mingle with their families.

“He was a generous and compassionate man,” said Jefferson Parish District Attorney Paul Connick, one of Voelker’s closest friends. The two met when their daughters were classmates at the Academy of the Sacred Heart. “He always answered the call.”

Connick said Voelker’s charity work was often offered on a much more personal level.

“There were countless other times where he helped individuals who needed money for a doctor, say, or they couldn’t pay their kids’ tuition, or they needed a job. He’d either hire them or call someone to help them,” Connick said. “Those are the things people don’t see. And that’s one of the things I admired about him. He could never tell anyone no.”

Connick said Voelker fell ill in April and learned his best chance for recovery was a lung transplant. “He knew it was a risky procedure, but David was a fighter. He said, ‘I’ll take my chances on the operating table,’ ” Connick said.

Shipyard owner Boysie Bollinger, another of Voelker’s close friends and a fellow member of the LRA, said he thought Voelker would be proudest of establishing the Legacy Foundation, which raised awareness about organ donation.

The Legacy Foundation came up with the concept of allowing people to state if they wanted to donate their organs on their Louisiana drivers licenses, a concept that has since been exported to many other states.

Ironically, Voelker would later need a lung transplant and his brother would need a liver transplant.

“He was very compassionate,” Bollinger said. “He loved people and he loved doing good things for people.”

Despite his good works, Voelker’s longtime financial firm, Frantzen-Voelker-Conway Investments LLC, ended in acrimony following a 2010 lawsuit filed by his longtime business partner, Juanita Frantzen, that accused him of squandering her multimillion-dollar investment in the company. That lawsuit was eventually settled out of court.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart’s chapel, 4521 St. Charles Ave.

Voelker is survived by his wife, Richelle Voelker, and his three daughters, Mullady, Audrey and Kitty Voelker.