On a late summer day, the University of South Dakota and South Dakota State University are buzzing. Students have returned for another semester, campus growth can be seen everywhere you look, and, T. Denny Sanford's thumbprint is on much of it.
"Those kind of resources contribute in such a way, contribute to one entity is a game-changer. And, I think a game-changer for the entire area," said USD President Jim Abbott.
Recently, Sanford Health - the healthcare system T. Denny gave 400 million dollars to in 2007 - donated twenty million dollars to the University of South Dakota.
"We're going to have a complete complex and Sanford is a big part of that," said Abbott.
The entire 60 million dollar project will include a new basketball and volleyball arena that will connect to the current Dakota Dome.
"When the folks from those universities ask they usually ask for a lot more than we give them, but, nonetheless we feel it's very important for us to give back because as a not-for-profit we don't have shareholders per say," said Sanford Chief of Staff and VP of Public Affairs Mike Begeman. "We do have communities, though, that are looking to us to assist."
It's a similar conversation 115 miles of north of Vermillion in Brookings. The Jackrabbits Division 1 program needs a new indoor training facility. Sanford answered the Jacks' proverbial cowbell.
"We got a tremendous start with eighteen million dollars of gifts. But, we need to finish. So, our tag line is the time is now," said SDSU Athletic Director Justin Sell. "We have a chance if we do all of those things right now to impact SDSU for the next 40 or 50 years."
So, how does Sanford determine what causes are worthy of their community investment fund?
"They're around health related causes. That's obviously one area. Education is another area. And economic development is the third," said Begeman.
"Sports kind of does those three pretty well. There is a huge economic development component to these universities. It draws students, it draws businesses. It is athletes. It's keeping kids healthy and wellness," said Sanford Chief Operating Officer Nate White.
In the midst of those two major donations to the state's largest universities is Sioux Falls new event center. It will be called the Denny Sanford Premier Center. Three companies bearing Sanford's name will give a total of 21 million dollars. Suddenly, people are wondering if Sioux Falls should be called Sanford Falls?
"You know I smile when I hear that. From our perspective we're just happy to do our part. We're a small piece of everything that's going on in this community, whether you're talking about the events center or the universities," said White.
Added Begeman, "We've kind of realized that everybody is not going to embrace that. We wish that they would and we wish that they would accept the contributions that whether it's our organization or whether it's Mr. Sanford investing in the community. Those are huge impacts to keep our communities healthy and viable."
With tens of millions of dollars given to this region to keep it robust, one has to wonder what T. Denny Sanford's legacy will be?
"My sense is ask me that question again in 50 years and I think there will be an enormous story to tell," said Sanford.
"The history books will be lined with what he's done with his dollars and investments," said White.
Added Begeman, "His generosity warrants people I think in our community to say thank you. Just as simple as that."
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