T. Denny Sanford

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T. Denny 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.
Born (1935-12-23) December 23, 1935 (age 86)
Saint Paul, Minnesota, United States
Alma materUniversity of Minnesota
OccupationOwner and founder of First Premier Bank
Chief executive officer of United National Corp.
(m. 1960; div. 1982)

Colleen Anderson
(m. 1995; div. 2005)


Thomas Denny Sanford (born December 23, 1935, in Saint Paul)[1] is a South Dakota businessman and philanthropist. He is the founder of First Premier Bank and the chairman and chief executive officer of its holding company, United National.


Sanford's first job was at age 8 working in his father's garment shop. He later became a student at the University of Minnesota, intending to become a doctor, but struggled with chemistry and switched majors, eventually graduating with a degree in psychology in 1958.[2] Sanford made his fortune as the owner of subprime credit card providers First PREMIER Bank and PREMIER Bankcard.[3] The bank is known for specializing in a wide range of high-interest, subprime credit cards marketed to people with low credit scores. In 2007, Sanford paid $4.5 million as part of a settlement with the New York Attorney General that alleged deceptive practices in marketing. Premier Bank offered a credit card with a 79.9% interest rate and a $300 limit, an amount cited by Senator Bernie Sanders as an example of "extortion and loan sharking".[4]

In 2018, Sanford ranked #1103 on the Forbes World's Billionaires list, with wealth listed at $2.2 billion.[5]

Personal life and education[edit]

Sanford was born on December 23, 1935, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, during the Great Depression. His mother, Edith, died when he was four years old from breast cancer. In his teenage years, he was reportedly arrested for drinking and fighting and placed in a juvenile detention center, released after 36 days on the condition that he enroll in college. Sanford has two sons from his first marriage.[6] 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.[7]

Legal issues[edit]

In 2020, it was reported that Sanford was being investigated for possession of child pornography. Investigators obtained a search warrant before referring the case to the United States Department of Justice.[8] The investigation has led several institutions to reconsider his philanthropy.[9][10] The investigation was ongoing as of January 2022 at both the state and federal levels.[11]

List of philanthropic gifts[edit]

Sanford has pledged to give away his entire fortune during his lifetime, giving financial contributions to various higher education and healthcare institutions without a formal foundation or permanent staff.[12] In 2006, BusinessWeek magazine listed him as one of the 50 most generous philanthropists.[13] As of October 2018, he has donated over $1 billion.[14]

  • In 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.[15]
  • In December 2001, Sanford gave $100,000 to the Sioux Empire United Way to help abused and neglected children.[16] Roundup River Ranch, an affiliate of Paul Newman's Association of Hole in the Wall Camps, in Gypsum, Colorado, received $4 million.
  • In 2006, Sanford donated $70 million[17] to 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 2003, Sanford and the University of Minnesota announced that Sanford would donate $35 million toward a proposed new football stadium for the Minnesota Gophers football team, a deal that would have given him full naming rights.[18] The deal fell through in late 2003 when the parties were unable to reach an agreement on terms of the funding. In 2005, TCF Bank won the bid for the naming rights.[19][20]
  • In 2004, Sanford announced a gift of $16 million to what became Sanford Children's Hospital. Children's care was one of the five centers of excellence at what was then Sioux Valley Medical Center.[21] The University of South Dakota School of Medicine was renamed the Sanford School of Medicine of the University of South Dakota after the donation. The William Sanford Welcome Center at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul and the T. Denny Sanford Pediatric Center at the Mayo Clinic were also later named following sizeable donations from Sanford.
  • On February 3, 2007, Sanford announced a $400 million gift to Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, which renamed itself Sanford Health.[22] The gift was featured on The Chronicle of Philanthropy "Philanthropy 50: Americans Who Gave the Most in 2007."[23]
  • In 2008, Sanford founded the Sanford Harmony Program at Arizona State University's T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics. The San Diego Consortium for Regenerative Medicine in La Jolla, California received $30 million, changing its name to the Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.
  • In 2009, Sanford made a $6 million donation to help fund the TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.[24] He also gave $100 million to create a breast cancer foundation in memory of his mother. The University of Minnesota accepted a $6 million donation to name the athletic hall of fame within TCF Bank Stadium for Sanford.[25]
  • In 2010, Sanford's gift to Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College established the Sanford Inspire Program for teacher preparation at Arizona State University. ASU and National University housed the program concurrently until 2017, after which it was hosted exclusively by National University. The Burnham Institute for Medical Research in La Jolla, California, and Orlando, Florida, received $50 million in 2010, which was followed by a name change to Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
  • Sanford was named Philanthropist of the Year in 2011 by the Arizona State University Alumni Association.
  • In 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.[26][27] The University of California, San Diego also 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.[28] Sanford pledged $10 million to the Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota following a $10 million matching pledge made by Sanford in 2007.[29]
  • In 2014, Sanford gave $125 million to Sanford Health to create the Imagenetics program.[30] He also gave $1 million to National University to create the Sanford Education Center.[31] He later founded The Sanford Institute of Philanthropy at John F. Kennedy University that month via a $28 million donation to the National University System for initiatives within the Sanford Education Center.[32] The National University's School of Education was renamed the Sanford College of Education after the donation.[33] The Denny Sanford PREMIER Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was also named after donations from Sanford.[34]
  • In 2018, Sanford founded an endowment within the Horatio Alger Fund of $30 million for college scholarships to students who have faced significant financial or healthcare obstacles in their education.[35] He also donated $30 million toward a remodeling of the San Diego Children's Zoo.[36]
  • In 2019, Sanford donated $350 million to National University in addition to $150 million he had given previously. In honor of the donation, National University announced in 2019 that it would change its name on July 1, 2020 to Sanford National University,[37] but the name change was placed on hold after Sanford became subject of a South Dakota child pornography investigation[38]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Hildebrandt, Kelly (January 30, 2005), T. Denny Sanford: The Quiet Millionaire, Argus Leader, pp. 1, 4
  3. ^ "The World's Billionaires". Forbes. March 5, 2008. Retrieved June 5, 2008.
  4. ^ "Senator Sanders Filibuster | C-SPAN.org". www.c-span.org. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  5. ^ "Forbes Billionaires 2020". Forbes. 2020-04-01. Retrieved 2020-09-02.
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Arnsdorf, Robert Faturechi,Isaac. "Billionaire T. Denny Sanford Was Under Investigation for Child Pornography". ProPublica.
  9. ^ "National University holds off on name change after reports of T. Denny Sanford investigation". La Jolla Light. 2020-09-04. Retrieved 2021-01-03.
  10. ^ Aug 31st 2020 - 9am, Jeremy Fugleberg | (31 August 2020). "Sanford Health distances itself from child porn investigation into top patron T. Denny Sanford: 'This matter does not involve our health system'". Duluth News Tribune. Retrieved 2021-01-03.
  11. ^ Faturechi, Isaac Arnsdorf,Robert. "Child Porn Probe of Billionaire Businessman Denny Sanford Continues at State and Federal Level, Court Records Show". ProPublica. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  12. ^ Callahan, David (2017), The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, p. 267
  13. ^ "The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists". BusinessWeek. Archived from the original on February 27, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  14. ^ Springer, Patrick (4 October 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.
  15. ^ Gerrietts, Jennifer (April 27, 1999), 3 donors to match $3.5 million in gifts to children's homes, Argus Leader, p. 31
  16. ^ Tucker, Denise D. (December 14, 2001), $100,000 gift to help children, Argus Leader, p. 17
  17. ^ "Our History". Sanford Underground Research Facility. Retrieved 2022-07-18.
  18. ^ "T. Denny Sanford Press Conference Statement" (Press release). University of Minnesota. September 5, 2003. Retrieved March 7, 2007.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ Tibbetts, Than (March 23, 2005). "U may reveal stadium plan". Minnesota Daily. Archived from the original on November 30, 2005. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  20. ^ "TCF Financial Corporation gives $35 million". University of Minnesota. March 24, 2005. Archived from the original on January 13, 2006. Retrieved January 10, 2006.
  21. ^ Harriman, Peter (February 1, 2004), Sioux Valley gets $16 million, Argus Leader, p. 1
  22. ^ Hamilton, Lindsay (February 3, 2007). "Man Gives Away $400 Million to Hospitals". ABC News. Retrieved March 7, 2007.
  23. ^ The Philanthropy 50: Americans Who Gave the Most in 2007, The Chronicle of Philanthropy
  24. ^ Post, Tim. "T. Denny Sanford gives $6 million for Gopher football stadium". MPR News. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  25. ^ Post, Tim (May 21, 2009). "T. Denny Sanford gives $6 million for Gopher football stadium". Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  26. ^ "Home | Sanford Underground Research Facility". sanfordlab.org.
  27. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physics 2002". NobelPrize.org.
  28. ^ Argus Leader (November 13, 2013). "Philanthropist's gift a big bang for stem cell research". USA Today. Retrieved November 13, 2013.
  29. ^ Naylor, Jennifer. "Philanthropist pledges $10 million for Crazy Horse Memorial". Rapid City Journal. Retrieved December 17, 2013.
  30. ^ Sanford to start construction on Imagenetics building, Argus Leader, June 24, 2015, p. 6
  31. ^ "Sanford gift creates education center at National U". San Diego Union-Tribune. January 16, 2014.
  32. ^ "Sanford Institute of Philanthropy [Department Page]". John F. Kennedy University. Retrieved 2021-01-03.
  33. ^ "Sanford College of Education dedicated". San Diego Union-Tribune. December 11, 2015.
  34. ^ http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/events-center-deal-2075m-over-25-years/?id=135315
  35. ^ Associated Press (January 29, 2018), Sanford donates $30 million for college scholarships
  36. ^ "$30 million gift for San Diego Zoo". San Diego Union-Tribune.
  37. ^ Jedeur-Palmgren, Max. "T. Denny Sanford Gives $350 Million To National University, To Be Renamed In His Honor". Forbes.
  38. ^ "National University holds off on name change after reports of T. Denny Sanford investigation". La Jolla Light. 2020-09-04. Retrieved 2021-01-03..