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T. Denny Sanford

Denny Sanford was born in St. Paul, Minnesota. Young Denny developed an early work ethic during his summers, working in his father’s clothing distribution company. His mother died of breast cancer when he was four; and his father and an older brother both died of heart disease at a young age.

After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1958, Denny proved to be a successful entrepreneur. He had a career in sales, marketing and materials distribution. He then established Contech Inc., a Minneapolis-based national company that manufactured sealants, coatings and adhesives. The company employed 350 people, including a chemical laboratory with 13 chemists, developing products for large architectural buildings. Mr. Sanford subsequently sold Contech, and started a venture capital company.

In 1986, he purchased United National Corporation in Sioux Falls, SD (now First PREMIER Bank), and later added a newly-formed credit card company (PREMIER Bankcard). The success of these two companies has helped the economy of South Dakota and created more than 3,000 jobs within the state.

Upon forming his foundation for charitable giving in 2001, Mr. Sanford established himself as one of the country’s leading philanthropists. His initial focus was to help sick, disadvantaged, abused and/or neglected children. To that end, he has been a long-time supporter of the Children’s Home Society in South Dakota. He also donated money to build the Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, as well as the T. Denny Sanford Mayo Clinic Pediatric Center in Rochester MN; and the T. Denny Sanford Pediatric Center at Florida Hospital for Children. He also donated funds to the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine for their new pediatric residency program.

Mr. Sanford’s attention subsequently turned to the fields of scientific and medical research. He supports the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota and the new Dakota State University’s cyber science program. He also donated substantially to the Sioux Valley Health System in Sioux Falls (now Sanford Health), whose major initiatives include developing children’s clinics worldwide and whose research center focuses on finding a cure for Type 1 diabetes. With his further help, they also opened the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Research Center.

In California, he has provided leadership philanthropic support to the Sanford Burnham Prebys (SBP) Medical Discovery Institute, the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine, the Salk Institute, the Sanford Stem Cell Center at UC San Diego, San Diego Public Library, the Zoological Society of San Diego, National University (which houses the Sanford Institute of Philanthropy and the Sanford College of Education, featuring the Sanford Inspire and Harmony programs.

Other major areas of funding around the country include his alma mater’s football program, Roundup River Ranch in Vail, CO and Arizona State University’s teacher education programs and gender harmony projects.

Mr. Sanford’s total giving to date is more than $1.6 billion. He has been recognized in various publications for his philanthropy, and has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, among them the Horatio Alger Association’s Distinguished American Award.