It borders on the routine. Several times a year a wealthy benefactor appears at a news conference to announce a multimillion-dollar gift to the University of Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas or one of the area's other fine institutions of higher learning.
In many states -- and at many colleges -- such gifts come along less frequently. But this is Minnesota, where entrepreneurial achievement has produced generations of residents willing and able to give back to their home state. On such occasions, do Minnesotans pause to consider how fortunate they are? And do they often think about the impact that the University of Minnesota has on their lives?
In these days of breathtaking bailouts, Ponzi schemes and A-Roids, the decision Caroline Amplatz made recently deserves more time in the spotlight. Minutes after hearing a presentation about the struggle to raise money for a new children's hospital at the university, Amplatz, an attorney from Golden Valley, pledged $50 million to name the hospital in honor of her father, Dr. Kurt Amplatz.
"I just knew right at that moment that this was one of my purposes,'' she said in an interview. Her father, 84, was on a ski trip and did not attend the news conference.
The extraordinary donation -- the second largest in U history and the third of more than $40 million in the past year -- will fund children's research and treatment, including a facility for children with heart problems. That care is especially significant in light of the work of Kurt Amplatz, who did pioneering research in pediatric cardiology while teaching at the university. His Amplatzer Septal Occluder is used to repair a hole in the heart, which is among the more common congenital defects in infants.
The device was key to the growth of AGA Medical, the Plymouth medical device company that Amplatz founded in 1995. He taught radiology at the university from 1957 until his retirement in 1999, and he holds more than 30 patents. Amplatz was also instrumental in the development of the medical technology industry in Minnesota.
His daughter, who declined to identify the specific source of the $50 million, is a member of the University Pediatrics Foundation board. She also has two of her own foundations -- one promoting education in Spanish-speaking countries and another supporting children's needs. Both will soon be merged and called Caroline's Kids.
Her gift is a second key piece of funding for the hospital, which is under construction on the Riverside campus of the University of Minnesota Medical Center. Fairview Health Services is financing $175 million of the $275 million cost of the 96-bed hospital, which will open in 2011.
The University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital will provide thousands of children and their families with care in the years ahead. Undoubtedly it will save lives. For Amplatz, a mother of three, that will be the greatest gift. "I'm hoping that people who go to the Amplatz Children's Hospital will at least have the peace of mind that they're doing the best they possibly can to save their children.''
For that, Minnesotans can be grateful.