For Immediate Release
December 2, 2015

McKenna Young
484-385-2913 (office)

South Dakota Entrepreneur and Generous Philanthropist T. Denny Sanford to Receive 2016 Horatio Alger Award
Horatio Alger Association names 13 exceptional leaders, each of whom has overcome significant adversities in achieving personal and professional success, to its Member Class of 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 2, 2015) – Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc., a nonprofit educational organization honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals and encouraging youth to pursue their dreams through higher education, today announced that T. Denny Sanford, chairman of the board, United National Corporation, has been selected for membership in the prestigious organization. Mr. Sanford joins 12 other accomplished business and civic leaders from across North America in receiving this honor in 2016. Since its establishment in 1947, the Horatio Alger Award is annually bestowed upon recognized leaders who have succeeded, despite facing adversity, and who are committed to both philanthropy and higher education.

Mr. Sanford grew up in a socioeconomically challenged neighborhood in Saint Paul, MN, where he lived in a 700 square foot apartment with his parents and brother. His mother passed away from breast cancer when he was only four years old. Often in the care of others, Mr. Sanford spent the school year under the guidance of housekeepers and was taken in by various relatives during the summer months. When Mr. Sanford was 8 years old, he began working at his father’s clothing distribution company. Throughout his high school years, Mr. Sanford worked a number of odd jobs, including a pin setter in the bowling alley and as part of the assembly line at the Ford Motor plant in Saint Paul. After high school, he was sentenced to 90 days in the public workhouse for fighting. Determined to avoid the sentence, he told the judge he would apply to college if the sentence was dismissed. The judge let him go after 36 days and he embarked on finding a path to success at the University of Minnesota. In 1958, he graduated with a degree in psychology and started working as a sales representative at Armstrong Cork Company. Following in his father’s footsteps as a successful entrepreneur, Mr. Sanford started his own firm, Contech, representing manufacturers of construction materials. He took the company public in 1972 and sold it 10 years later for $28 million. In 1986, Mr. Sanford bought United National Bank and renamed it First Premier Bank, which he later expanded into the credit card business. Today, Mr. Sanford is chairman of United National Corporation, which has two wholly owned subsidiaries, First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard.

“The Member Class of 2016 is a strong group of leaders, entrepreneurs and philanthropists, and Mr. Sanford is no exception,” said Byron Trott, president and CEO of Horatio Alger Association and 2011 Horatio Alger Award recipient. “Looking at his successes, generosity and inherent entrepreneurial spirit, it is clear that Mr. Sanford makes an excellent addition to the Association. For today’s youth, especially our Scholars, he is a role model who demonstrates the power of philanthropy, self-belief and ambition.”

As a generous philanthropist, Mr. Sanford was named one of “America’s Top Donors” by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.. He focuses on health care and children’s causes and his contributions exceed $1 billion. In collaboration with Arizona State University, Mr. Sanford created two programs, Sanford Inspire Program and Sanford Harmony Program, both of which aim to support teachers and children in their educational experiences and environments. Most recently, Mr. Sanford donated $25 million to create Build Dakota, a scholarship program that provides students with an education by allowing them to give back in post-graduate service to a sponsoring company. In the medical arena, the Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, along with 49 hospitals and 250 clinics in the U.S., are named in his honor in recognition of his general support. In addition, two other schools within colleges bear his name: The T. Denny Sanford School of Family and Social Dynamics at Arizona State University, and The Sanford College of Education at National University. Mr. Sanford has received 44 awards from various nonprofits. Additionally, Mr. Sanford funds ongoing research of breast cancer, Type 1 diabetes and stem cell programs.

In accepting this honor, Mr. Sanford commented, “To be selected as a Member of the prestigious Horatio Alger Association, which supports young men and women in their pursuit of the American Dream, is deeply meaningful. I am passionate about making the world a better place. I look forward to embracing my role as a Member of the Association and assisting its young Scholars in any way I can.”

Through its Members, Horatio Alger Association aims to educate young people about the limitless opportunities afforded to them by the free-enterprise system. To further this goal, the organization awards scholarships to outstanding high school students who are committed to pursuing higher education and giving back to their communities. Like Association Members, Horatio Alger Scholars have faced numerous challenges and have displayed unmatched resilience in overcoming them. Since the scholarship program was established in 1984, Horatio Alger Association has provided more than $110 million to students in need. Scholarships are funded solely through the generosity of Association Members, Life Partners and friends.

Mr. Sanford and the Member Class of 2016 will be officially welcomed into the organization during the 69th Annual Horatio Alger Award Induction Ceremonies in Washington, D.C., from March 31-April 2, 2016. In addition to recognizing these tremendous leaders, Horatio Alger Association will also honor its 2016 National Scholarship recipients, affording both groups the opportunity to meet and learn from one another.

For more information about Horatio Alger Association and a full list of its Class of 2016, please visit


About Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans:
Founded in 1947, the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, Inc. is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. The Association honors the achievements of outstanding leaders who have accomplished remarkable successes in spite of adversity by bestowing upon them the Horatio Alger Award and inducting them as lifetime Members. Horatio Alger Members support promising young people with the resources and confidence needed to overcome adversity and pursue their dreams through higher education. Thanks to their generosity, the Association awards more than $11 million annually in undergraduate and graduate need-based scholarships across the United States and Canada and provides college support and mentoring services to its Scholars. Since 1984, the Association has awarded more than $110 million in college scholarships to more than 22,000 deserving young people. For more information, please visit