Editor's note: Each week reporter Matthew Guerry shares the life stories of residents of Minnesota or the Dakotas who have died recently. Maybe you don't know them, but their stories are worth knowing. If you have a suggestion for someone to be featured, email mguerry@forumcomm.com or call 651-321-4314.

Some years back there was a student-athlete attending Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., who was struggling to afford his education. He needed $5,000 to help cover the cost of finishing school.

Don Blumenberg gave it to him, no strings attached.

"He wanted to see people succeed," said Brenda Blumenberg of Mitchell, S.D., of her dad's generosity. "He wanted to make their lives better. And if he could help in any way, he would."

Donald Dean "Don" Blumenberg died of COVID-19 on Nov. 17, 2020, at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. He was 86.

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A long-time resident of Fulton, S.D., Blumenberg tended to the family's farm where he grew up, and to the family banking business. His retirement from the farm and the eventual sale of the bank left him with the time and resources both to play an even greater role in his community.

He gave often to his alma mater, Dakota Wesleyan, where he completed his education in 1956 and later sat on the board of trustees, Brenda said. He also helped to found the school's athletic booster organization.

Brenda said her father, who played basketball in high school and in college, donated more than $10,000 each year to the university's athletic program.

Blumenberg recently donated $100,000, she said, toward the university's construction of a new building for the business education department, which is slated to open in August. But his generosity did not get in the way of his shrewdness as an investor.


Amy Novak, Dakota Wesleyan's outgoing president, saw that firsthand.

"I have had conversations with Don since I got here," she said in a recent interview. "He was a really adept businessperson. So he asked thoughtful questions. And when you're asking people to make an investment, whether it's in a business or a university, or any other entity, good business people ask good questions."

Born on May 25, 1934, in Mitchell to Martin and Maude Blumenberg, Don Blumenberg graduated from high school in Fulton, where he also met his first wife, Ellene Gannon. The basketball star and the cheerleader would wed on Aug. 8, 1958, and remain together until Gannon's death in 1994.

The couple had three daughters: Lisa Blumenberg Switzer, of Alexandria, S.D.; Dawn Mayer, of Fulton, S.D., and Brenda Blumenberg. Don married Judy Brockhouse in 2005.

Don Blumenberg and his grandson Westin. Submitted photo.
Don Blumenberg and his grandson Westin. Submitted photo.

He served for a time in the U.S. Army as an aircraft mechanic and was also a member of the South Dakota National Guard. His passion for aviation was lifelong, and Blumenberg was known even later in life to fly himself out of state to inspect farm equipment and other supplies he was interested in purchasing.

Blumenberg was inducted to his alma mater's hall of fame, was named the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo Honorary Parade Marshal, and given the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, among other accolades.

According to Jeff Krall, a friend who came to know him through the local aviation community, Blumenberg felt compelled to do good for the sake of doing good, and not for the recognition it brought. He kept confidential many of his gifts and donations.

"There's always a saying that reminds me of Don: you can get a lot of things done if you don't care who gets credit for it," Krall said. "He didn't need credit it when he knew he could do the right thing and help others."

Blumenberg is survived by his wife, his daughters and their spouses, several grandchildren, and his sisters.

A grandson plans to take over the farm in his stead.

Corrections March 15, 2021: Lisa Blumenberg Switzer is a resident of Alexandria, S.D. Her city was wrong in an earlier version of this story. Also, a grandson plans to take over Don Blumenberg's farm. His relationship was wrong earlier. Both errors have been corrected in the story. We regret the errors.