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       Philanthropist: A wealthy person who gives money and time to help make life better for other people. – Merriam Webster Dictionary

The definition of philanthropist could easily be shortened to two words: Earl Nordby.

Earl’s name is on the building, as they say, and in this case it is the new Nordby Exhibit Hall for 4-H, Youth & Community on the State Fairgrounds in Huron.

Earl passed away in March and never saw the finishing touches put on yet another extraordinarily generous gift. Space would not begin to allow a listing of all of them, but here’s a sample of areas where his philanthropy counted:

The Nordby Wellness Center in Huron, the Mitchell Technical Institute, the Pepsi-Cola Theatre for the Performing Arts in Mitchell, and the purchase and donation of the Huron University Campus to the city of Huron for the Splash Central waterpark. He also made out large checks to James Valley Christian School, and the purchase and conversion of the former St. John’s Hospital to Huron Regional Medical Center.

There’s more, much more, but when I saw the exhibit hall at the fair, I immediately saw in my mind’s eye Earl Nordby, his broad smile and enthusiasm radiating like sunbeams. I suppose it’s possible to be successful in business without his kind of contagious zest for life, but it must be far more fun doing it Earl’s way.

He started out delivering Huron Plainsman newspapers at age 12, then developed his own ice business at 14.  After that, he immersed himself in the family RC Cola Bottling Company until buying it and converting into Pepsi Cola Bottling of Huron. His entrepreneurial drive fostered other successful businesses, as well, but all the while, Earl found time to not only write checks, but give his time as a Boy Scout leader and serve on many boards and commissions.

Earl also loved opera, which might be a bit out of the ordinary in Beadle County, or South Dakota. He learned this appreciation from his mother, whom he worshiped. Every Saturday afternoon he and his mother would listen to opera on the radio, and if he was playing with some of his friends, he told them he had to go home and do chores. This love of opera is why Earl was so generous in efforts to bring opera to the Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls

Earl was recognized in 2015 as South Dakota’s Philanthropist of the Year. It could just as well have been Philanthropist of the Decade, and even that would be an understatement.

Aug. 31, 2016