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June 5, 2018; Washington Post

South Dakota banker and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford has given away more than $1 billion of his fortune so far, and he’s not slowing down. His most recently announced gift of $100 million will go to the San Diego-based National University System to expand their Sanford Harmony program, with a goal “to make social emotional learning available to every child nationwide in the PreK-6 grades,” according to a press release.

National University System says that the Sanford Harmony program, currently reaching 1.5 million children, will grow its footprint to up to 30 million students in the US and abroad. In fact, the program is already being adapted for use in Vietnam, Mexico, and Brazil, and has plans to expand to Europe, China, and India.

The $100 million gift is the largest single gift in National University’s history. Previously, Sanford has given more than $28 to support the university’s Sanford Inspire and Sanford Institute of Philanthropy programs. The eight years of research for the Sanford Harmony program was performed at the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the 82-year old Sanford’s impetus for giving to a program on emotional learning is as simple as it is personal. “After my second divorce, I said to myself, Wait a second, how could this be avoided?” Sanford hopes the Harmony curriculum will “ultimately reduce divorce, abuse, and bullying rates and increase cooperation, collaboration, respect, and inclusion among all children.”

Much of Sanford’s philanthropy is targeted to healthcare and education programs serving children, including his single largest gift of $ to what became the Sanford Health System, headquartered in Sioux Falls, SD and Fargo, ND. Other major gifts have included $36 million to build the Sioux Valley (now Sanford) Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, $100 million for the Sanford Stem Cell Clinical Center at the University of California San Diego, and $70 million for the Sanford Burnam Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, CA and Orlando, FL for cancer research.

Nonetheless, Sanford says of Sanford Harmony, “I think this will be my biggest legacy.”—Michael Wyland