Naples couple Lee and Penny Anderson among elite group donating to universities

Naples residents Lee and Penny Anderson donated $75 million to a Minnesota university earlier this month because they believe in the mission of higher education — and they’re not alone.

Naples Daily News spoke to a few local donors to find out exactly why they love donating to universities. They all have their individual reasons, but seemed to share at least one common motivation: believing that education makes a difference.

Lee and Penny Anderson.
Lee and Penny Anderson.

Lee and Penny Anderson, Naples

The Andersons donated $75 million to private Catholic University of St. Thomas in January to build a new hockey and basketball arena.

Though he didn't attend St. Thomas, Lee says the university is a huge part of his hometown community near the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

Record donation:Naples couple Lee and Penny Anderson donates $75 million to a Minnesota university

"I thought that the school had a wonderful purpose and mission and I liked the spirituality part of it and I like the student body," Lee said. "It's a cross section of middle America and one which appeals to me."

The Andersons have donated $140 million to the school over 30 years.

“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.”

Photo of David Hoffmann (middle) holding a check of his donation to Florida Gulf Coast University.
Photo of David Hoffmann (middle) holding a check of his donation to Florida Gulf Coast University.

David Hoffmann, Naples

Naples-based businessman David Hoffmann owns 111 businesses globally, including several wineries and vineyards, Naples Trolley Tours, and the Florida Everblades hockey team. He calls his collection of businesses the Hoffmann Family of Companies.

After purchasing Hertz Arena in 2019, Hoffmann started giving back to Florida Gulf Coast University. He provides the university’s golf course and hockey arena.

In March 2022, Hoffmann donated $250,000 to FGCU’s wine and food tasting laboratory, which will be named after him.

Though Hoffmann has a vested interest in wine – he owns 5 wineries – it’s not the only reason why his company donated to FGCU.

“We like to support local businesses that we think have an impact on the community and, and I can't think of one that's bigger than FGCU,” Hoffmann said. “It's important to us to get hospitality talent from the university. We hire students from FGCU. And so we have a business reason and a philanthropic reason to want to be involved.”

Hoffmann attributes his success to his education and wants to make sure others have the same opportunities he did, which is why he donates.

Photo of Brian Rist.
Photo of Brian Rist.

Brian Rist, Fort Myers

Brian Rist, who owns hurricane shutter company Storm Smart, started donating at Florida SouthWestern State College and FGCU for the same reason as Hoffmann: employment.

“In the beginning, when we owned our company, it was kind of a self-purpose type of thing where we wanted better employees,” Rist said. “And so how do you get them? Well, you make the schools better, and you get to know the people at the schools, and then you can find better employees.”

Rist says over time, donating became more rewarding on a personal level.

"One thing that we have learned is that some of the smaller gifts we've given have had the most gigantic impact," Rist said.

He and his wife, Kim, gave "a relatively small amount" to his alma mater, University of Massachusetts Lowell, to start a sustainability and energy program. Rist says he watched the program blossom into a nationally recognized school, now called called the Rist Institute for Sustainability Energy.

Rist's latest donation was over $2.5 million for FSW to fund a cybersecurity program.

"My whole experience of being evolved later in my life with these universities has been so fulfilling and so rewarding, that I just think if more and more people give it a little try, they'll find it to be very, very rewarding," Rist said.

Photo of Kimberly Querrey and Louis Simpson
Photo of Kimberly Querrey and Louis Simpson

Kimberly Querrey and Louis Simpson, Naples

Kimberly Querrey and her late husband Louis Simpson have donated more than $379 million to Northwestern University in Chicago, IL, over the last 20 years. The donations have funded scholarships, an institute for bioelectronics, and the school's engineering program, according to the university.

More recently, Querrey and the trust made in Simpson's name gave $121 million for Northwestern to advance its biomedical program, increase research, and expand its executive education program.

“Our philanthropic investments focus on helping people,” Querrey told Northwestern. “Lou and I often discussed the importance of improving the quality of life, particularly for those facing medical challenges. The physicians, scientists and engineers at Northwestern do groundbreaking, innovative work, realizing our vision of positively affecting people’s lives.”

Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox holds a $1 million check during Night at the Nest Gala on Friday, December 6, 2019, at Alice Arena in Florida Gulf Coast University.
Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox holds a $1 million check during Night at the Nest Gala on Friday, December 6, 2019, at Alice Arena in Florida Gulf Coast University.

Chris Sale, Naples

Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale donated $1 million to his alma mater, FGCU, in 2019. The donation allowed the university to replace the scoreboard on its baseball field, Swanson Stadium.

"We're very proud of Chris Sale and the success that he has had," Executive Director of the FGCU Foundation Kitty Green said. "Over time, Chris continued to have success and and realized that we needed a new scoreboard at Swanson stadium, and so he generously offered to cover the cost to do that, which is amazing."

Sale says giving to FGCU was an easy decision.

"This is where we came from," Sale said in 2019. "A lot of the biggest moments in my entire life have come on this campus or because of this campus. My wife and I went to school here. We met here. We had our first son while we were still (in school) here. (FGCU has) done so much for us that this was kind of a no-brainer to do this."

Photo of Tom Golisano.
Photo of Tom Golisano.

Tom Golisano, Naples

The Golisano Children's Hospital and the Golisano Children's Museum are just two of the many buildings Naples businessman and entrepreneur Tom Golisano has named after him.

Golisano frequently donates to colleges and universities, primarily those in New York — where he was born. Over the years, he has donated $24 million to Rochester Institute of Technology, $12.5 million to Nazareth College, $12.5 million to Roberts Wesleyan College, $10 million to Niagara University, $5.8 million to St. John Fisher College, and $5 million to Hartwick College.

In 2009, Golisano made his first donation to a school outside of New York: private Catholic Ave Maria University. He gave $4 million for the university to build its first indoor athletic facility. In July 2022, university spokesmen announced the Tom Golisano Field House would undergo a full renovation. The project is set to finish by summer 2023.

Photo of Gloria and Steve Bailey
Photo of Gloria and Steve Bailey

Steve and Gloria Bailey, Naples

Steve Bailey, CEO of truck parts supplier Diesel USA Group, and his wife Gloria donated $8 million to Indiana State University in December 2022. The Baileys' gift was the largest individual donation in the school's 158-year history.

ISU officials say they're using the donation to improve their engineering program.

""Every facet of Indiana State, and this gift, excites us because we know how much of an effect it can have on students," Gloria said to ISU in 2022. "Steve attributes much of his success in his career to his time at Indiana State. We are hopeful that this gift will be the best investment of our lives.”

How donors make a dent in the education system

While all public state universities receive funding from state government, Green with the FGCU foundation says it's not enough to pay for everything a university wants to accomplish.

"For any of the special things that we want to do, we have to use donor funds," Green said. "So we have been really lucky that we've had some amazing donors that have allowed us to offer more scholarships and to provide more programming and do many special things that we wouldn't be able to do otherwise."

Green says donor-funded projects can be finished quicker than state-funded projects because they don't require the process of requesting state money.

"We actually did build a building recently using 100% donor dollars," Green said, referring to Lucas Hall. "The state has a fund that they use for constructing buildings in higher education and it's a very long and laborious process to apply for those funds. And takes a very long time. It would have been many, many years in the future by the time we could have gotten that done."

FGCU began holding classes in 1997, making it the second youngest school in the State University System of Florida. Green says the newness of the university impacts the amount of donations and the kind of people who donate.

"Most of our gifts have come from community members, not alumni, because we're so new," Green said. "We don't have a great big group of wealthy alumni to draw from, so many people have given here who never went here as a student. What a lot of them say really seals the deal for them is that they realize that at FGCU they can make so much more of an impact with their dollars than they could, perhaps at their own alma mater."

FGCU had its biggest fundraising year in 2022, garnering $33 million in donations.

"We've been so lucky with our donors here, that they care so much about the students here, and they really get involved with them, and there's been some really rich relationships that have developed from that," Green said. "I think that's really special and honestly, that's where the money comes from. It's not money first and students later. It's they get to know people and then they want to be able to help them."

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: Naples couple Lee and Penny Anderson among elite group donating to universities