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Eveleth man donates nearly $400,000 to area charities in honor of late wife

George Erickson donated $380,000 to area charities and organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross and United Way. The recipients were selected by his wife, Sally, and the donations were made in her honor after her death in September.

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George and Sally Erickson. Sally died Sept. 17, 2021, and George donated $380,000 to charities and organizations in her honor. Contributed / George Erickson

An Iron Range man is hoping his philanthropy will inspire others to give what they can this holiday season.

George Erickson, a retired dentist and author, recently donated $380,000 to numerous area charities and organizations. Erickson, who grew up in Virginia and now lives near Eveleth, made the donations in honor of his late wife, Sally, who died at age 86 on Sept. 17 following an illness.

“When it became obvious that my wife wasn’t going to make it, we sat down and I asked her, ‘Who do you want to give some money to?’" Erickson said. "So we made this long list.”

At the top of the list was Northern St. Louis County Habitat for Humanity, which received $100,000. Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Nathan Thompson said the donation is the largest contribution by an individual that the regional organization has ever received. And, he said, thanks to the Ericksons' generosity, Habitat for Humanity will be able to help serve an additional family next year.

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George Erickson, second from left, presents monetary donations totaling $200,000 to North St. Louis County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Nathan Thompson, United Way of Northeastern Minnesota Executive Director Erin Shay and American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota Executive Director Dan Williams on Oct. 27, 2021 at North St. Louis County Habitat for Humanity. Contributed / United Way of Northeastern Minnesota

“I have yet to have anybody like George come in and have the means and the willingness and the kindness to be like, ‘Here’s $100,000, and I trust that you guys can use it to help our neighbors in need,’” Thompson said. “That’s an amazing feeling.”

The United Way of Northeastern Minnesota and the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota each got $50,000 donations from the Ericksons. The remaining $180,000 was divided among 14 other organizations, many of which were local or regional organizations and charities.

“When you want to support charities, I think the thing to do is go to the ones that you trust,” Erickson said.

Dan Williams, executive director of the American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota, said the donation is in the top five largest individual donations received in the eight years he's been with the organization. The money helped the Red Cross exceed the fundraising goal for this year's Give to the Max Day, and to exceed the amount raised last year. Of that donation, $25,000 went as a challenge donation on Give to the Max Day, which ended up raising more than $102,500 for the American Red Cross of Minnesota and Dakotas.

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George Erickson presented $200,000 of donations to North St. Louis County Habitat for Humanity, United Way of Northeastern Minnesota and American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota on Oct. 27, 2021, at North St. Louis County Habitat for Humanity. Contributed / United Way of Northeastern Minnesota

When he gave his donation, Williams said Erickson spoke of the importance of sharing.

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" We talk about fancy words like 'philanthropy' and 'generosity,' but really, it’s about sharing, and I thought, gosh, that really says it all, doesn’t it?” Williams said.

Erickson, 89, said while he considers himself lucky to be in the position to make large donations like this, he wouldn't be in the position if it weren't for the support from his wife, Sally. They met through a mutual friend during college — Sally was at Macalester College and George was at the University of Minnesota College of Dentistry. George practiced as a dentist for 32 years in Worthington and Sally raised their two sons, Chris and Lars, at home, while also spending time as a talented seamstress and an avid reader of nonfiction books.

Chris Erickson is the owner and president of Northland Capital Management in Hermantown and Virginia, and Lars Erickson is an architect in Maryland.

George and Sally moved to Ely Lake, just outside Eveleth, in 2004.

George said the two were always compatible when it came to politics and religion. Sally was also supportive of George's endeavors of becoming a bush pilot in the Canadian and Alaskan arctic, his role as the vice president of the American Humanist Association, and his time spent advocating for nuclear power and writing five books about aviation, nature and climate change. He said many spouses may have been irritated by the time he devoted to his research, but she didn't complain.

“I couldn't have picked a better person — for me or my sons. They had a good mother," Erickson said. "I think, in 67 years, I can only remember three times when we had an argument — not so bad that we were yelling, but you know, we were irritated. That’s pretty good.”

In the two months since her death, Erickson said having the responsibility of making the donations has been a good way to keep busy.

“I really got lucky in a lot of ways," he said. "Born in a good country, had good parents and a good education, had a good wife, had a number of medical conditions, but none of them deadly, and everything I tried worked out well and I made some good investments. So it ends up we’re able to do these sort of things and I think it’s the time to do it.”

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George and Sally Erickson on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2006. Sally died Sept. 17, 2021, and George donated $380,000 to charities and organizations in her honor. Contributed / George Erickson

Thompson said he's glad Erickson will be able to see the impact his donations will make on the community, and he hopes people will see that good and continue to pay it forward during their lives.

“I think Thanksgiving and the holiday season really is a time of generosity," Thompson said. "We all kind of realize all the good things that we have and it’s nice to be able to share some of that with others.”

Erickson has spent recent years writing and revising his fifth book, "Unintended Consequences: The Lie That Killed Millions and Accelerated Climate Change," which is available for free at tundraclub.com . He also has spoken to groups and classes about climate change and made several contributions to Virginia education and recreation. He retired from flying his plane five years ago, saying he'd seen every place he wanted to go. His favorite slogan and email signature is: "Never pass up a chance to do something nice for someone."

“My life would’ve been so different without my wife," Erickson said. "I hope it would’ve been a good one, but I’d start it all over with her in a flash.”

George and Sally Erickson's donations

  • North St. Louis County Habitat for Humanity — $100,000
  • United Way of Northeastern Minnesota — $50,000
  • American Red Cross serving Northern Minnesota — $50,000
  • Planned Parenthood — $30,000
  • American Cancer Association — $20,000
  • American Civil Liberties Union — $20,000
  • Final Exit — $20,000
  • St. Louis County Sexual Assault Program — $20,000
  • Range Mental Health — $15,000
  • Freedom From Religion Foundation — $10,000
  • Meals on Wheels — $10,000
  • Minnesota Public Radio — $10,000
  • Rock Ridge Public Schools — $8,000
  • Bill's House — $6,000
  • WDSE-TV — $5,000
  • Mesabi Symphony Orchestra — $4,000
  • Lyric Center for the Arts — $2,000
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