Giving for Good

Our 2021 Friend of the Foundation Honorees

The Friend of the Foundation Award recognizes philanthropic individuals, families or businesses whose innovative and collaborative leadership and consistent generosity have impacted our area.

Join us in celebrating Paul and Mary Ellen Connelly, a couple known for their willingness to step forward as volunteers, as philanthropists, and as advocates for important causes, as our 2021 Friend of the Foundation honorees.

Paul and Mary Ellen Connelly. Photo by Emily Spartz Weerheim.

Paul and Mary Ellen Connelly have a simple philosophy when it comes to giving back: If not us, who? And if not now, when?

A willingness to step forward — as volunteers, as philanthropists, and as advocates for important causes — has defined this long-time Sioux Falls couple for years. And it all stems back to some good advice an old friend once shared, they said.

“A friend once told me, if you want something done, don’t wait on other people. Take care of it yourself,” Paul said. “So that’s what we’ve tried to do as far as our giving.”

People Helping People

A native of Minneapolis and a graduate of St. Thomas University, Paul moved to Sioux Falls in 1965 to begin working for Culligan. A decade later, he purchased the business and continued to grow it for the next 30 years. He retired in 2006 and passed the business on to his son, Alex.

Mary Ellen grew up in Mount Vernon, South Dakota. While majoring in micro-biology at Colorado State University, she took a summer class at Augustana University in Sioux Falls.

During that summer, she met Paul and they married the following December. They’ve made their home in Sioux Falls ever since.

Both Paul and Mary Ellen say they view philanthropy in its truest form — as people helping people.

Mary Ellen remembers her parents stepping forward to help others in her hometown.

“It was a small town and people looked after each other,” she said. “Everyone pitched in to help the community as a whole.”

Paul recalls being impacted by a family friend who served as a mentor for him during his teenage years. Later, after receiving a scholarship to attend St. Thomas, he felt the call to give back.

“I knew when I finished school that I wanted to pay that scholarship forward. I wanted to give that gift of education to someone else,” he said.

Guided by their love for this community, Paul and Mary Ellen’s philanthropy demonstrates a deep care for others and a willingness to give of themselves to help accelerate the pace of progress toward a brighter tomorrow.

— Andy Patterson, President, Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation

When it comes to their charitable giving, the Connellys support various areas but are especially passionate about education.

Over the years, in partnership with the Community Foundation and the Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools Foundation, the couple have established charitable funds to help support teachers at Bishop O’Gorman Catholic Schools.

Parks and conservation are other areas they care deeply about, and their work in these sectors spans across decades.

They've worked to establish a fund at the Foundation in collaboration with Sioux Falls Beautiful to provide grants to improve core Sioux Falls neighborhoods. Mary Ellen was also among the founding members of the Shoto Teien Japanese Garden Committee, a group that worked to rescue a portion of Terrace Park from disrepair. An endowment held at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation provides sustainable funding for the continued care of the Garden even today.

Improving food security is another passion area, and, for several years, the couple has worked to lead a matching gift campaign for Feeding South Dakota on Giving Tuesday.

Through all of their philanthropic endeavors, working with the Community Foundation has been “the gift that keeps on giving,” Mary Ellen said, describing the Foundation as a resourceful organization that drives results.

Above all, the couple says their giving reflects their love for the community they’ve called home for more than 50 years.

“Sioux Falls is home. It’s family. It’s friends,” they said. “So we want to do what we can to help make it an even better place.”

Photo at top by Paul Schiller, Acts of Nature.