The contributions of business leader and philanthropist Henry Carlson Jr., who passed away on July 14, are etched into Sanford Health’s history and will shape its future.
To look out across the Sanford USD Medical Center campus in Sioux Falls today is to see an important piece of Henry Carlson Jr.’s legacy. It is where his life’s work in construction met his deep commitment to community, health care and giving back.
Through his leadership of the Henry Carlson Company as well as $3.2 million in philanthropic gifts made with his wife, Eleanor, to the Sanford Health Foundation, Henry left an enduring mark on prominent buildings across the Sanford campus, as well as the lifesaving work within.
A family tradition built alongside Sanford
For nearly a century, the Henry Carlson Company has partnered with Sanford Health to construct landmark facilities across the region.
Under the leadership of Henry’s father, Henry Carlson Sr., the Sioux Valley Hospital was built in 1930. Henry later joined the business in 1943 and would position it as a pivotal partner in the health system’s expansion and rapid growth, especially following the transformational investment from Denny Sanford in 2007. Today, nearly the entire campus—from the Sanford Surgical Tower to the Children’s Hospital, Heart Hospital, Edith Sanford Breast Center, Ava’s House, Imagenetics and more—reflects Henry’s exceptional influence.
“It was a great privilege to know Henry and to partner with him on so many significant projects over the years,” said Paul Hanson, president and CEO of Sanford Health Sioux Falls. “We could always trust his vision and leadership, knowing he shared our commitment to doing the right thing for our community and the patients we serve. You can see his immense contributions in every direction you look.”
Today, Henry’s son, Chip, and grandson, Tom, continue the family-led tradition at the company, which is already working on the new Sanford Orthopedic Hospital and several other ongoing projects across the campus.
Enduring investments in children’s health
Henry and his wife, Eleanor, were also strong benefactors of Sanford Health. Since their first gift in 1988, the couple donated more than $3.2 million through the Sanford Health Foundation to support a range of causes from cancer care to hospice. But their primary passion through the years was always children.
After seeing their granddaughter, Anna, survive a difficult cancer diagnosis at Sanford Children’s, the couple established an endowment in 1994 to support pediatric cancer care. It remains one of the largest endowed funds at the Foundation, generating tens of thousands of dollars annually to care for kids fighting cancer.
Twelve years later, Henry and Eleanor committed $1 million to help build the Sanford Children’s Castle of Care. The Carlson Great Hall, named in their honor, is today the hospital’s breathtaking main lobby that welcomes every family and child who walks through the front doors, a space that gives hope and comfort to those facing the unimaginable. At all times of the day, the hall is where you’ll find families gathered by the fireplace for dedicated time together, patients in deep conversation with providers or children gazing across the colorful world map painted on the floor, trying to locate their home state.
During a few special days every year, the hall is also home to the Foundation’s radiothons for Sanford Children’s. These events are dedicated to inspiring philanthropy just as Henry and his family have and continue to do.
In 2021, Henry and Eleanor made their final gift together—a significant investment in the Foundation’s ongoing Sweet Dreams campaign. Their gift will support the purchase of Giraffe OmniBeds and Panda Warmers, essential equipment to care for fragile infants in the Sanford Boekelheide NICU, the region’s most advanced level IV NICU.
“We remain eternally grateful to Henry and Eleanor for their generosity and friendship,” said Deb Koski, Sanford’s chief philanthropy officer. “Their extraordinary giving has left a lasting mark across our organization and will continue to impact the lives of countless patients—especially children at the Castle of Care—for years to come.”
Henry’s spirit of giving continues through their son, Chip, and his wife, Jennifer, who have given more than $1 million through the Foundation, and through the family business. Henry Carlson Construction has generously supported the construction of Ava’s House and other priorities at Sanford, in addition to donating resources and services to set up the Christmas tree at Sanford Children’s Hospital each year.