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Community Foundation Mourns the Loss of Former President Sue Brown

The Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation is mourning the loss of Sue Brown, former president of the Foundation from 1995-2006. Brown passed away peacefully at her home in the Black Hills surrounded by her family on Sunday, May 10, from metastatic breast cancer. She was 74.

As the second president of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, Sue Brown is remembered as an innovative, entrepreneurial and community-minded leader who nurtured a culture of giving and care. During her tenure, she developed a strong infrastructure for both operations and for grantmaking, while also building connections among nonprofits, local philanthropists and civic leaders — all contributions that helped put the organization on a strong trajectory for growth.

Candy Hanson served as president of the Foundation from 2006-2015 and knew Brown well. She called her a pioneer.

“Sue laid the foundation for a new Community Foundation era when she applied for and won a Kresge Foundation grant aimed at helping local nonprofits establish endowments,” Hanson said. “The award was worth $10 million over a five-year period. Dozens of agencies beyond the original participants eventually founded permanent endowments with Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation,”

A Lifetime of Service

Born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Brown went on to graduate from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Early in her career, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she served for a year as legislative secretary for Congressman Tom Railsback of Illinois and then began a management career as a housing specialist with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. She continued this work when she and her husband, Dick, moved to Omaha in 1972. While there, she began her role as a mother with the birth of her children: Matthew, Terra, and Jennifer.

After moving to Sioux Falls in 1979, Brown established a research and community development consulting business and served on boards for many nonprofit organizations in the fields of education, housing, and women’s issues, including the Sioux Falls Housing and Redevelopment Commission, South Dakota Housing Development Authority, YWCA, Habitat for Humanity, United Way and Volunteers of America. She also served on the boards of the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Rotary, as well as serving two terms on the Sioux Falls School Board.

In 2007, Sue and Dick moved to Custer, South Dakota, to be closer to their grandchildren. There, she served on the Boards of Custer Rotary, Custer Youth and Alumni Foundation, and the Custer County Planning Commission and briefly on the Board of the Black Hills Area Community Foundation. Sue and Dick formed Brown Associates, LLP, and were contracted as South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation Development Directors in 2008.

She received many awards for her volunteerism and community service, including the Dave Birkeland Award for leadership in Sioux Falls, YWCA award for women’s leadership, and Volunteers of America Youth Service Award. In 2008, she was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. For her many contributions, and for her ongoing leadership in philanthropy, Brown was named the Friend of the Foundation in 2018.

Visionary, Servant Leadership

Evan Nolte, former president of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, knew Brown well. He said she exemplified servant leadership.

“Sue Brown’s timeless legacy to the Sioux Falls area and state of South Dakota is truly one of exceptional servant leadership and tireless dedication to the mission of the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation throughout her career as President,” Nolte said. “After she and Dick moved to Custer to be closer to their family, they served as co-development directors for the South Dakota Parks & Wildlife Foundation. Together, they provided effective leadership in helping secure funding for several major projects including the new Good Earth State Park at Blood Run near Sioux Falls and Harrisburg as well as the Outdoor Campus in Rapid City. We regret her passing, but realize that those of us who had the opportunity to work with her were blessed with seeing the best that a person can be.”

In addition to being an exceptional leader, former South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard remembers Brown as a good friend with a good heart.

“Sue combined a thoughtful, steady hand with great vision and a strong work ethic to lead the Foundation to great success. On top of it all, Sue was a good friend with a big heart. Her impact on the community was significant,” Daugaard said.

Hanson agreed.

“She was easy to love, to work with, and to work for.” Hanson said. “Henry James said there are only three things important in life: ‘The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.’ Sue lived that advice everyday of her life. It’s little wonder she was beloved by donors and staff alike.”

Friends recall that Brown often called the Foundation the “place where her passion and professionalism came together.”

“The founding Board members had a vision of quality and what this organization could become for the community,” Brown once said. “People come through the door because they have a story, a wish, a tragedy, a desire to do something great for the community. It was a privilege to respond to whatever brought them through the door.”

Foundation President Andy Patterson said Brown’s good work is evident throughout the community today.

“Sue was an extraordinary leader whose thoughtful and visionary ideas have helped create the vibrant community we all call home today,” said Andy Patterson, president. “She was also a treasured friend and mentor to those of us who were privileged to work with her and know her. Words can’t express how much we will miss her. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Sue’s family during this difficult time.”

Celebrating of Sue's Life and Legacy

If you would like to make a memorial gift in celebration of Sue’s life and legacy, please consider the Sue Brown Endowment at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.