Naples couple donates $75 million to a Minnesota university

Naples couple Lee and Penny Anderson have financially supported the Naples Winter Wine Festival since 2002, a year after its inception. Now they’ve made history for the biggest donation to a university in Minnesota – one that neither attended.

Their $75 million donation to the private Catholic University of St. Thomas will help build a new hockey and basketball arena.

The Andersons are from Minnesota, but retired to Naples. While they didn’t attend St. Thomas, both grew up in the university's community near the Twin Cities. Lee says the school has "a wonderful purpose and mission.”

Lee and Penny have donated $140 million to the school since 1993. After the new arena is finished in the fall of 2025, there will be four buildings named after the Andersons on campus.

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Mockup photo of the Lee and Penny Anderson Arena that will be finished in 2025.
Mockup photo of the Lee and Penny Anderson Arena that will be finished in 2025.

“The thing about the Andersons is, while they've helped make unbelievably beautiful buildings possible, it's never about the buildings for them,” University President Rob Vischer said. “It's about the students, and they know that having a campus that is beautiful and welcoming and comfortable is key to being a place where students grow and build relationships and find a home and develop both personally and professionally.”

Vischer says the new arena will allow St. Thomas to elevate its Division 1 athletics and make a nationwide name for its hockey and basketball teams.

But Lee didn't donate his millions because he has a vested interest in sports. He says he wanted to give the school what they needed the most.

"When they stepped up to Division 1, the requirement is to have much nicer facilities," Lee said. "They've been working hard at building the stadium, so it wasn't the fact that it was sports, it was just what they're building today. Penny and I have enjoyed association with that school and we felt we'd like to do something further with them."

Vischer has known the Andersons for 18 years. In that time, he says they have become the largest donors in the university's 138-year history.

“They're the best kind of benefactors because they care deeply about our mission,” Vischer said.

The Andersons continually donate to the Naples Winter Wine festival, as Lee says it’s his favorite cause in Naples. Proceeds from the festival go directly to the Naples Children and Education Foundation. The Andersons have worked with organizers of the festival for over 20 years.

“Lee and Penny are wonderful," CEO of NCEF Maria Jimenez-Lara said. "They are great philanthropists in the many communities that they live in. I think that they are the example of what it really means to make a difference in the life of a child and in the betterment of the community."

Lee is planning on branching out to another cause soon: NCH’s new Heart, Vascular, and Stroke Institute.

“Most of our charitable giving has been back in Minnesota although we also are interested in medical science,” Lee said. “We’re very interested in the Naples hospital project. We’ll probably end up giving to that as well. I know we will.”

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Naples couple donates $75 million to a Minnesota university