Seasonal Nisswa residents set record with $75 million university donation
Lee and Penny Anderson's donation to the University of St. Thomas will fund a new sports arena.
NISSWA — The largest-ever monetary donation to a Minnesota university came from part-time Nisswa residents Lee and Penny Anderson.
The University of St. Thomas announced the $75 million gift from the Andersons last month. The money will fund the $175 million Lee and Penny Anderson Arena, which will be the new home of the St. Paul school’s Division I basketball and hockey teams.
Now living in Naples Florida, Lee Anderson grew up in the Twin Cities and spent summers at his family’s cabin on Nisswa Lake. He and wife, Penny, still have a home on the lake and reside there in the warmer months. The Andersons are known around the lakes area as the former owners of Nisswa Marine, while son Andy is president and CEO of Nor-Son Construction in Baxter, and son-in-law Joel Groethe is president of APi Supply Lifts in Nisswa.
Though Lee Anderson spent his college years at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, he became acquainted with the University of St. Thomas decades ago when he and his wife became next door neighbors with the O’Shaugnessys, another well-known family in the St. Thomas community. The school’s library and football stadium bear the O’Shaugnessy name, as do two academic buildings.
“I learned a lot about St. Thomas from our neighbors — our friends — and attended a number of events there and always thought, ‘Boy, this is a really neat place,’” Lee Anderson said during a phone interview Tuesday, Jan. 31.
Anderson spent 12 years as a trustee at the school and has continued to remain financially involved. The new arena, he said, is on St. Thomas’s list of needed facilities after a historic move from Division III to Division I athletics in 2021, the first school to do so in the NCAA era.
“We really can’t accommodate the fans the way we would like to as Division I,” Anderson said. “And this was an opportunity to do both the basketball and the hockey in one facility.”
The facility will have a permanent sheet of ice that can have hardwood floors put over it for basketball and other events. Anderson said the school also plans to host concerts and eventually graduation ceremonies in the new arena, which he estimates will be complete around 2026.
“The school’s really moving up and onward,” Anderson said. “The enrollment is up, and this facility will allow them to further their pursuit of top quality athletes, as well as others who want to see the wisdom in attending the University of St. Thomas.”
The University plans to demolish three buildings on its South Campus to accommodate for the new arena, which will not be the first named after the Andersons.
A $60 million gift from the couple in 2007 went toward the construction of the Anderson Student Center, Anderson Athletic and Recreation Complex and the Anderson Parking Facility.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to do this,” Anderson said. “And being successful in business, we wanted to give back to the community, and higher education is an area that we’re most interested in.”
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.