August 03, 2020

Transformative Friendships Lead to Life-Changing Results

Sanford Gives $12.5 Million to USD Law School, Honors David Knudson with Renaming

T. Denny Sanford and David Knudson have spent decades working together, and through that time, they have built a friendship that has made lasting impressions throughout South Dakota. To celebrate and honor that friendship, Sanford has endowed $12.5 million to the state’s only law school and institution that is near to Knudson’s heart – the University of South Dakota School of Law.

As a result, the law school will adopt the name of University of South Dakota Knudson School of Law to commemorate the legacy of Knudson, a skilled lawyer who has led many of the most important developments in South Dakota and a public servant who has dedicated his life to serving the state. 

“Mr. Sanford made an investment in something that matters to him – South Dakota and the people who lead it – and he did it based on someone who matters – Dave Knudson.”

“Mr. Sanford made an investment in something that matters to him – South Dakota and the people who lead it – and he did it based on someone who matters – Dave Knudson,” said Neil Fulton, dean of the USD law school.

“Early on, Mr. Sanford and Mr. Knudson had a lawyer/client relationship, but when you see them interact, it’s very apparent that it goes beyond business,” Fulton said. “They have changed the face of South Dakota in important ways, and they have done an incredible amount of good together through their philanthropic contributions. To me, this gift speaks to the power of transformative friendships – the friendship of Mr. Sanford and Mr. Knudson – across decades, and this is just the latest chapter in that story.”

Born and raised in Yankton, South Dakota, Knudson has served the state in many capacities. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University (1972) and a juris doctor degree from New York University (1975), Knudson returned to his home state to practice law. He started working for Davenport, Evans, Hurwitz & Smith, LLP, and in 1978, he became a partner. It is at the firm where Knudson began representing Sanford, beginning a collaboration that has lasted for over 30 years. 

“Dave has been my attorney and confidant all these years, and he’s like a brother to me,” said Sanford, a South Dakota businessman and philanthropist who has previously invested in the USD Sanford School of Medicine, the USD Beacom School of Business and the Sanford Underground Research Facility located in Lead, South Dakota. “He is truly a wonderful guy, and he is so competent in what he does. He is marvelous in every respect.”

“This gift will provide students with the opportunity to pursue their dream of legal education,” said USD President Sheila K. Gestring. “It also demonstrates that an entire community stands behind those students as they develop the skills and expertise to serve their communities.”

In 1981, Knudson received his M.B.A. from the University of South Dakota. He went on to serve as chief of staff for South Dakota Gov. William J. Janklow in both 1995 and 1999 and as chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Managed Care in 1995 and chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Physician Recruitment in 1996. He was chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Trust Law Reform and Administration, a position he held for 15 years. Knudson was on the City of Sioux Falls Charter Revision Commission from 1998-2000, and he continues to serve the city through philanthropy today. He is on the Washington Pavilion Board of Trustees, the chair of the Stewardship Committee at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, is co-chair of the Great Plains Zoo Fundraising Campaign and a member of the South Dakota Bar Association.

Knudson served the state as a South Dakota senator from 2003-2011 and a Senate majority leader from 2007-2011. He was vice-chair for the education committee and the legislative procedure. Knudson worked at Sanford Health as a senior vice president from 2010-2013, and he is now senior vice president at United National Corporation.

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USD School of Law Dean Neil Fulton, Dave Knudson, De Knudson and USD President Shelia Gestring announced a $12.5 million gift from T. Denny Sanford to honor the legacy of Sioux Falls lawyer, David Knudson.

It is not just the friendship between Sanford and Knudson that make this gift so special, it’s the fact that the endowment will change the lives of students who want to start a career in law. Because of the gift, every year, 10 students will have the opportunity to apply for a full-tuition scholarship.

“This gift will provide students with the opportunity to pursue their dream of legal education,” said USD President Sheila K. Gestring. “It also demonstrates that an entire community stands behind those students as they develop the skills and expertise to serve their communities.”

“Being a lawyer is a higher calling. Lawyers do great things for other people, whether in private practice or in public service. Lawyers try to grapple with problems big and small, and their goal is to find solutions. The skill of our lawyers to solve problems is very important to South Dakota."

“I’m very happy to be able to provide funding for the law school and to recognize Dave Knudson by putting his name on the law school at the University of South Dakota,” said Sanford. “It is going to be transformative because Dave is a transformative type of person. I hope this gift will enhance the law school and draw more attention to the school as well as bring more students into law and to USD for a great education.”

Through the efforts of Sanford and Knudson, this gift ensures the law school remains a national leader, and it is an investment in the state’s future community leaders, business advisors and justice seekers.

“Being a lawyer is a higher calling. Lawyers do great things for other people, whether in private practice or in public service,” Knudson said. “Lawyers try to grapple with problems big and small, and their goal is to find solutions. The skill of our lawyers to solve problems is very important to South Dakota.

“It is a very rare opportunity to have a school of law named after you, and as a lawyer, it means a lot to me,” Knudson continued. “I’m extremely pleased that this gift is going to be used for scholarships. It’s important that higher education is open to people from all backgrounds. I’m grateful to Denny for this wonderful gift, both in the honor it’s giving me and for the scholarships he is creating for many worthy students to attend the USD Knudson School of Law.