T. Denny Sanford

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Thomas D. Sanford
A bronze statue of a late middle-aged man holding up his hand at waist level.
Statue of Sanford in front of the Sanford USD Medical Center.
Thomas Denny Sanford

(1935-12-23) December 23, 1935 (age 84)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Alma materUniversity of Minnesota
OccupationOwner and founder of First Premier Bank
Chief executive officer of United National Corp.
Net worthUS$ 2.2 billion (2018)[1]
(m. 1960; div. 1982)

Colleen Anderson
(m. 1995; div. 2005)


Thomas Denny Sanford (born December 23, 1935, in Saint Paul)[2] is a South Dakota businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder and owner of First Premier Bank and the chairman and chief executive officer of its bank holding company, United National Corporation. Sanford is part of an increasingly popular trend, sunset philanthropy, and has pledged to give away his entire fortune during his lifetime as opposed to leaving it to a foundation that exists in perpetuity. As of October 2018 he has donated over $1 billion.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Thomas Denny Sanford was born on December 23, 1935, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, during the Great Depression. Sanford's mother, Edith, died when he was 4 years old from breast cancer. His first job was at age 8 working in his father's garment shop. In his teenage years, he was arrested for drinking and fighting and placed in a juvenile detention center, being released after 36 days on the condition that he enroll in college. He became a student at the University of Minnesota, intending to become a doctor. But he struggled with chemistry and switched majors. At age 20, Sanford's father died. Sanford eventually graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in psychology in 1958.[4]


Sanford made his fortune as the owner of First PREMIER Bank and PREMIER Bankcard, both among the nation's leading subprime credit card providers.[5] Premier Bankcard issues low-limit Mastercards and Visas to credit-impaired customers, charging higher-than-average interest rates and fees.[6] The typical customer stays only 18 months before graduating to a better rate. "We provide a lifeline for credit-impaired people," Sanford told Forbes magazine.[7]

In 2018, T. Denny Sanford ranked #1103 on the Forbes World's Billionaires list, with wealth listed at US $2.2 billion.[8]

Philanthropy and legacy[edit]

BusinessWeek magazine listed him as one of the top-50 most generous philanthropists in November 2006.[9]

On February 3, 2007, Sanford announced a $400 million gift to Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, which renamed itself Sanford Health.[10] Largely because of this gift, Sanford came in third on The Chronicle of Philanthropy "Philanthropy 50: Americans Who Gave the Most in 2007."[11]

Over the past decade, Denny Sanford has given nearly $1 billion to Sanford Health,[12] and his gifts are generally geared toward improving the quality of life for children.

Sanford is noted for giving away a vast sum of money without a foundation or much help from permanent staff.[13]

Other significant gifts include the following:

  • In April 1999, Sanford agreed to match up to $2 million in donations to the Children's Inn and Children's Home Society of South Dakota, which cares for abused and neglected children, through 2002.[14]
  • In December 2001, Sanford gave $100,000 to the Sioux Empire United Way to help abused and neglected children.[15]
  • Roundup River Ranch, an affiliate of Paul Newman's Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, located in Gypsum, Colorado, received $4 million – $1 million in cash and $3 million as a matching gift.
  • The State of South Dakota's Science and Technology Authority, to help secure a deep underground science and engineering laboratory at the former site of the Homestake Gold Mine.
  • In 2004, Denny Sanford announced his gift of $16 million for what would become Sanford Children's Hospital, covering almost half of the $34 million price tag. Children's care was one of the five centers of excellence what was then Sioux Valley Medical Center had decided to pursue and Denny Sanford was quoted as saying, "My primary bent, in terms of philanthropy, is directed at small children, to give them the opportunity to realize a full life."[16]
  • In 2005, TCF Bank won the bid to receive naming rights for the new stadium.[17][18]
  • The University of South Dakota School of Medicine, which was renamed the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota.
  • The William Sanford Welcome Center at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota.
  • The T. Denny Sanford Pediatric Center at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
  • A 2008 gift created the Sanford Harmony Program in Arizona State University's T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics to help children better understand the opposite gender and to create respect, trust and understanding between boys and girls before adolescence.
  • In 2008, the San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, California, received $30 million, which was followed by a name change to the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.
  • The Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California, and Orlando, Florida, received $50 million in January 2010, which was followed by a name change to Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. This gift came only two years after Sanford donated $20 million to a Sanford Center for Childhood Disease research at Burnham in La Jolla.
  • Florida Hospital for Children in Orlando, Florida, which received $10 million.
  • On May 21, 2009, Sanford made a $6 million donation to help fund the TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota's campus.[19]
  • In January 2009, Sanford gave $100 million to create a breast cancer foundation in memory of his mother, Edith Sanford, who died of breast cancer when he was only four years old.
  • On May 21, 2009, the University of Minnesota accepted a $6 million donation to name the athletic hall of fame within TCF Bank Stadium in his honor. This donation was the final amount to close out the $86 million in private fundraising for the stadium.[20]
  • In 2010, Sanford's gift to Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University created the Sanford Inspire Program, redefining teacher preparation by integrating best practices of the teachers college and Teach For America.
  • Sanford was named Philanthropist of the Year in 2011 by the Arizona State University Alumni Association.
  • In February 2013, Physics Today reported that Sanford gave $70 million to a physics lab in the defunct Homestake Mine in South Dakota, renamed the Sanford Underground Research Facility[21] site of the discovery of the solar neutrino problem which won the Nobel Prize in Physics for Raymond Davis, Jr. in 2002.[22]
  • In November 2013, University of California, San Diego announced a $100 million gift from Sanford for the creation of the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at UCSD, the second-largest donation in the university's history.[23]
  • In December 2013, Sanford pledged $10 million to the Crazy Horse Memorial, in South Dakota. The donation follows a $10 million matching pledge made by Sanford in 2007, along with a donation made by Huron couple, Paul and Donna Christen.[24]
  • In January 2014, Sanford gave $125 million to Sanford Health to create the Imagenetics program, which conducts genetic research, uses genetic information for precision medicine, and provides genetic counseling.[25]
  • In January 2014, Sanford gave $1 million to National University to create the Sanford Education Center, focused on training nonprofit leaders and PreK-12 teachers.[26]
  • The Denny Sanford PREMIER Center built in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is named for him.[27]
  • In December 2015, the National University's School of Education was renamed the Sanford College of Education in recognition of Sanford's "contributions to education".[28]
  • In August 2016, Sanford donated $100,000 to a group trying to defeat marijuana legalization in Arizona.
  • In April 2017, Sanford donated $28 million to the National University System, specifically for initiatives based out of the Sanford Education Center.[29]
  • In January 2018, Sanford started an endowment with the Horatio Alger Fund to the tune of $30 million. The endowment provides college scholarships to students who have faced obstacles in their education (e.g., growing up in a single-parent home, parent addicted to drugs or incarcerated, etc.).[30]
  • In January 2018, Sanford donated $30 million to remodel the San Diego Zoo Children's Zoo.[31]
  • In October 2019, Sanford donated $350 million to National University, which was already in addition to $150 million he had given previously. In honor of the donation, National University has changed its name to Sanford National University.[32]

Proposed philanthropy[edit]

Sanford graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1958 with a degree in psychology. In 2003, Sanford and the University of Minnesota announced that Sanford would donate $35 million towards a proposed new football stadium for the Minnesota Gophers football team; a deal which would have given him full naming rights.[33] However, that deal fell through in late 2003 when the two parties were unable to reach an agreement on terms of the funding. Later in 2005, TCF Bank won the bid to receive naming rights for the new stadium.[34][35]

Personal life[edit]

Sanford has 2 sons from his first marriage (1960-1982) - Scott, a ship captain, and Bill, a physical therapist.[36] In 1987, at age 52, Sanford met his second wife, Colleen Anderson (then 36). They married in 1995 and their divorce was finalized in 2005.[37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sanford Not On Billionaires List". March 11, 2010. Archived from the original on March 16, 2010. Retrieved April 5, 2010.
  2. ^ Lawrence, Tom (June 28, 2006). "Sanford no stranger to giving in South Dakota". The Black Hills Pioneer. West River, South Dakota: Seaton Publishing. Archived from the original on June 8, 2011. Retrieved January 17, 2009. Thomas Denny Sanford was born Dec. 23, 1935, in St. Paul, Minn. He has never gone by the name Thomas and prefers his middle name.
  3. ^ Springer, Patrick (October 4, 2018). "T. Denny Sanford's donated over $1 billion, and he still made Forbes billionaires list". West Fargo Pioneer. Fargo, North Dakota. Retrieved March 17, 2019.
  4. ^ Hildebrandt, Kelly (January 30, 2005), T. Denny Sanford: The Quiet Millionaire, Argus Leader, p. 1, 4
  5. ^ "The World's Billionaires". Forbes. March 5, 2008. Retrieved June 5, 2008.
  6. ^ Choi, Candice (December 17, 2009). "Credit card's newest trick: 79.9 percent interest". Associated Press. Retrieved October 24, 2011.
  7. ^ Whelan, David (September 22, 2007). "Dying Broke". Forbes. Retrieved July 7, 2015.
  8. ^ https://www.forbes.com/billionaires/list/3/#version:static_header:source
  9. ^ "The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists". BusinessWeek. Archived from the original on February 27, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  10. ^ Hamilton, Lindsay (February 3, 2007). "Man Gives Away $400 Million to Hospitals". ABC News. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  11. ^ The Philanthropy 50: Americans Who Gave the Most in 2007, The Chronicle of Philanthropy
  12. ^ PRWeb Newswire (December 4, 2017), Sanford Health Announces $1 Million Health and Science Award
  13. ^ Callahan, David (2017), The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p. 267
  14. ^ Gerrietts, Jennifer (April 27, 1999), 3 donors to match $3.5 million in gifts to children's homes, Argus Leader, p. 31.
  15. ^ Tucker, Denise D. (December 14, 2001), $100,000 gift to help children, Argus Leader, p. 17.
  16. ^ Harriman, Peter (February 1, 2004), Sioux Valley gets $16 million, Argus Leader, p. 1.
  17. ^ Tibbetts, Than (March 23, 2005). "U may reveal stadium plan". Minnesota Daily. Archived from the original on November 30, 2005. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  18. ^ "TCF Financial Corporation gives $35 million". University of Minnesota. March 24, 2005. Archived from the original on January 13, 2006. Retrieved January 10, 2006.
  19. ^ Post, Tim. "T. Denny Sanford gives $6 million for Gopher football stadium". MPR News. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  20. ^ Post, Tim (May 21, 2009). "T. Denny Sanford gives $6 million for Gopher football stadium". Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  21. ^ http://sanfordlab.org
  22. ^ https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/2002/
  23. ^ Argus Leader (November 13, 2013). "Philanthropist's gift a big bang for stem cell research". USA Today. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  24. ^ Naylor, Jennifer. "Philanthropist pledges $10 million for Crazy Horse Memorial". Rapid City Journal. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  25. ^ Sanford to start construction on Imagenetics building, Argus Leader, June 24, 2015, p. 6
  26. ^ http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/education/sdut-sanford-gift-national-university-education-center-2014jan15-story.html
  27. ^ [1].
  28. ^ http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/education/sdut-national-university-sanford-college-2015dec10-story.html
  29. ^ http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/education/sd-me-sanford-donation-20170417-story.html
  30. ^ Associated Press (January 29, 2018), Sanford donates $30 million for college scholarships
  31. ^ http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/visuals/photography/sd-30-million-gift-for-san-diego-zoo-20180112-photogallery.html
  32. ^ https://www.forbes.com/sites/maxjedeurpalmgren/2019/10/08/t-denny-sanford-gives-350-million-to-national-university-to-be-renamed-in-his-honor/
  33. ^ "T. Denny Sanford Press Conference Statement" (Press release). University of Minnesota. September 5, 2003. Retrieved March 7, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  34. ^ Tibbetts, Than (March 23, 2005). "U may reveal stadium plan". Minnesota Daily. Archived from the original on November 30, 2005. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  35. ^ "TCF Financial Corporation gives $35 million". University of Minnesota. March 24, 2005. Archived from the original on January 13, 2006. Retrieved January 10, 2006.
  36. ^ http://cms.keloland.com/news/article/featured-stories/the-man-behind-the-money
  37. ^ https://law.justia.com/cases/south-dakota/supreme-court/2005/1398.html