Long-time Pierre resident and acclaimed state-wide philanthropist Mansour Lincoln Karim passed away at 90 on July 5, in Rapid City.
Coming to America in November of 1950 from troubled Iran, cash-strapped 22-year-old Karim came to South Dakota to study English at Huron College, then study engineering at South Dakota State University. Since then, he did well — very well — in his career at the South Dakota Department of Transportation. He purchased property and managed it well, and had a reputation for thrifty living.
Over the decades, Karim has donated more than $1.5 million to charities in his adopted state. He did this because kindness had been shown to him.
Fresh to America, he saw that prices for many things were far better than in Iran, especially for the American iconic blue jeans. Still, he befriended a person on the train from Pennsylvania, who offered him a sandwich, which eventually ended up more like five sandwiches. His continuing-on bus ticket was also a gift. “I didn’t take it for granted at all. I was blessed to come to this country,” said Karim in an years-ago interview.
Much of Karim’s life in America, and of his giving, is illustrated in a 2016 book written by his daughter-in-law, Jess Karim. Often using amusing anecdotes, it tells of how Karim learned America was a safe country compared to Iran, how it took a while for him to realize just how big America is, and how much he wanted to help others.
“I consider myself a very proud American. I love this state. I love the state of South Dakota. It’s very good to me. And I’m also grateful that the community of Pierre and Fort Pierre. I could not do it without them. So I love all of you, and I’m honored to be a good friend of you,” he once said.
Much of his philanthropy with so many organizations is through dollar-to-dollar matching programs. He has donated to many causes, including a matching grant challenge to the Boys & Girls Club, to the South Dakota Historical Society, nursing scholarships through the Capital University Center, statues for the Trail of Governors, and more. Even the sales of some of the books went to the Cultural Heritage Center and the Boys & Girls Club, two of his favorite projects.
“He was one of the community’s biggest benefactors,” said John Clark, Pierre Chamber of Commerce member. Though Karim had recently moved to Rapid City to be with relatives, he had benefited, and had been honored in return, by many institutions and people in the state.
Karim was presented the George S. Mickelson award by the S.D. Teenage Republicans, for service to the community. “My main object is education. Education was a big help of mine,” Karim said. “I like to help the children be a good citizen.”
February 27, 2019 was declared by Pierre Mayor Steve Harding as “Mansour Lincoln Karim Day” in Pierre. Harding said, “through hard work and keen savings, Mr. Karim was able to reinvest in the community by generously sharing his financial success and kind heart with the Boys and Girls Club of the Capital Area, Avera St. Mary’s Hospital, the South Dakota Community Foundation, the Trail of Governors, the State Historical Society and numerous other organizations throughout the community and state.”
Stephanie Judson of the South Dakota Community Foundation, and Kellie Yackley of Avera St. Mary’s Foundation, and Jay Vogt of the South Dakota Historical Society all spoke at City Hall on Feb. 27, 2019, to thank Karim for his generous support of their nonprofit organizations. Yackley, who knew Karim before she was with the Foundation, said. “I was a newly single mom when I lived back to Pierre and he was my landlord and took great care of us,” she said. Judson said Karim “brought his wealth to the community but more important, he brought his heart to the community.”
After hearing of Karim’s death, Dennis Pfrimmer, director of the Capital Area Counseling Center, said, “He loved children, and from what I could tell they loved him too. He was a wonderful supporter of the Boys & Girls Club. He initiated an endowment, and that money will be there for far into the future.”
“Where do I begin …. I feel like the words I share do not do justice for the impact Mansour has made on the Boys & Girls Club and myself as a friend,” said Rebecca Spoehr, director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area. “Mansour Karim has shared so much of himself with us; to the Boys & Girls Club of the Capital Area, his community, his family and to me, his friend. Mansour’s genuine heart of gold impacted everyone he encountered. His name will live on through the wisdom he had shared, the smiles he gave, the compassion he showed, the support he gifted and of course the famous hugs he presented to all of us. Mansour has left an unforgettable legacy and I’m truly honored to have crossed paths with Mansour eight years ago. He will be greatly missed by all.”