Two beloved institutions at South Dakota State University are the benefactors of a generous gift from Frank Denholm and his wife, Mildred. Though the proceeds are already transforming opportunities for the university today, the origin of the gift began long ago in a modest homestead on the prairie.
The fifth of nine children, Frank Denholm was consistently inspired by the determination and grit demonstrated by his father, John. John Denholm worked as a homesteading pioneer in the early 1920s, battling historic winters and blazing summers in a sod house as he supported his family from the land they cultivated for their home. Due to a shortage of schooling available in their remote area, John used his eighth-grade education to teach at the country school. His legacy for learning continued into a lifelong advocacy for State. “SDSU was a major component of the whole that molded the foundation for (my) life,” Frank once wrote, reflecting on his father’s desire for all of his children to attend the university.
Frank would carry his father’s appreciation for learning well into his own adult life. After graduating from SDSU in 1956 with a degree in political science, Frank hit the ground running. His long and distinguished career path included an election to the U.S. House of Representatives, service as a county sheriff and FBI agent, and operating his own law practice in Brookings, to name a few. He lived a remarkable and full 92 years before his passing in 2016.
Over the course of his many occupations and interests, Denholm also fostered a passion for philanthropy throughout his life. That passion led him to donate to SDSU the family’s 320 acres of land in Day County, originally homesteaded by John and gifted in his memory. Per their request, the gift will equally benefit McCrory Gardens and the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum. Each entity will be in receipt of more than $422,000 that will create substantial endowments for a permanent source of annual revenue.
“This gift allows us to dream,” said McCrory Gardens Director of Operations Lisa Marotz, who noted the gift’s value for educational programming and enrichment projects.
In addition, the endowment may fuel new exhibits or enhance the conservation and preservation of the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum’s extensive collection.
“Frank’s donation of land benefits visitors to our museum today, and because it’s a lasting endowment, we can count on it for years and generations to come,” said Gwen McCausland, director of the South Dakota Agricultural Heritage Museum.
What began as one man embracing challenges on a modest homestead led to a multigenerational appreciation for nature, farming and education that would greatly impact the university and Brookings community. This gift ensures the Denholm legacy of philanthropy and learning lives on for future generations.