Saint Paul, TX

The St. Paul couple who have given away millions of dollars.

Ash Jurberg

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In the hope of spreading good news to readers, I have been writing a series of articles on business leaders and entrepreneurs who have been giving back to the community.

Today I wanted to shine the spotlight on a couple from St.Paul who has given so much back to the city.

Let's take a look at their story.

The St. Paul billionaire

John Nassef was the son of Lebanese immigrants who arrived in St Paul in 1916. John was born in 1924, one of six sons in a poor household. He dropped out of school in ninth grade to help support the family.

He worked odd jobs until the age of 22, when he got a job at West Publishing unloading boxcars. He stayed with the company rising to become a senior executive. When the company was sold in 1996 for $3.43 billion, Nassef made an estimated $175 million from the company shares he owned.

He was 72 years old and beyond wealthy. So he then spent the rest of his life trying to give it all away.

Philanthropy

"Graciousness was John Nasseff. And a lot of his charity work was done right in St. Paul. I mean, he was born in St. Paul, lived in St. Paul, always planned to die in St. Paul. Vance Offerman

It is fair to say that Nassef was one of St Paul's most generous philanthropists.

In 1977, Nassef almost died from a heart attack but was saved by a physician from United Hospital. He remembered this act and donated $25 million to establish a new heart hospital for the United Hospital Foundation.

This sparked a series of large donations, including:

  • $10 million for the Milton M. Hurwitz ExerCare Fitness Center, which opened in 2002.
  • $26 million in 2006 to establish John Nasseff Specialty Center
  • $15 million in 2007 to create a neuroscience institute is scheduled for completion this year.

He gave to many Catholic projects, including the St. Agnes School in St. Paul’s Frogtown, helped expand St. Maron's Catholic Church in Minneapolis, and heavily supported the St. Paul police and fire departments.

“His passing leaves a hole in our city, our state, our country and world. Many will realize it, some may not. All will feel it. John grew up with a dream of making St. Paul a better place.” St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell

The legacy

John passed away in 2018 at the age of 93, but his widow, Helene Houle, has kept up the philanthropy.

In March 2021, Helene donated $60 million to the Mayo Clinic in honor of her late husband. John had donated regularly and often anonymously to Mayo to recognize the life-saving surgery they provided his youngest son Arthur.

"John Nasseff and Helene Houle have had a significant impact on Mayo Clinic over the decades of their support. We are incredibly grateful to Ms. Houle for this generous gift, and we cannot think of a more fitting way to honor Mr. Nasseff." Gianrico Farrugia, M.D, Mayo Clinic's president and CEO

Readers, what do you think of Nassef's story. The son of poor immigrants forced to drop out of school in ninth grade who became a multi-billionaire? And what St Paul organizations would you like to see his widow support?

Please leave your comments below.

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