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Barry quietly supports region's higher education


B. John Barry

B. John Barry wants to bring North Dakota up from the bottom of the list.

North Dakota ranks last in the amount of charitable foundation assets.

That's one reason why the Minneapolis-area businessman and former owner of Sun Country airlines recently moved his charitable foundation to North Dakota, where his family's roots go back 73 years.

The Barry Foundation, founded by Barry in 1986, was honored this week by North Dakota State University for its significant gift to the $15 million College of Business facility.

During the groundbreaking ceremony, the 66-year-old Barry said as he and his family get older, they feel a connection to their Fargo roots and a responsibility to give back to the region.


Dana Johnson, vice chairman of the Barry Foundation, said Barry chose to move his foundation from Newport, Minn., to Fargo to have more of an impact in the Red River Valley and the state.

"Hopefully, there will be an impetus there to have others act in the same way," Johnson said.

Largest foundation

With $48.6 million in assets in 2005, the most recent figure available, the Barry Foundation is likely now the largest charitable foundation in North Dakota.

It's in the same ballpark as the family foundation of University of North Dakota benefactor Ralph Engelstad, which reported $49 million in assets in its most recent tax filing.

The Barry Foundation ranked No. 36 of the top 50 Minnesota foundations with the most assets in 2005, according to the most recent rankings from The Foundation Center.

The center has not produced a new ranking list since the Barry Foundation moved to Fargo.

The next largest North Dakota private foundation in 2005 was the Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation, which had $41.7 million in assets.


Tax documents say the Barry Foundation plans to make about 51 percent of its donations in the Fargo-Moorhead area, 32 percent in the Twin Cities and the remaining in Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Aspen, Colo.; and Wisconsin.

The Barry Foundation has given significant support to higher education in the region.

In addition to the NDSU project, the foundation has contributed to Concordia College, where Barry sits on the Board of Regents. The foundation also established a scholarship in honor of Dru Sjodin at the University of North Dakota, Barry's alma mater.

"Higher education is an important resource for North Dakota and is obviously important to our foundation and family," Barry said during this week's NDSU groundbreaking ceremony.

Barry is co-chairman of a national steering committee for a UND fundraising campaign.

Tim O'Keefe, executive director for UND's Alumni Association and Foundation, said he considers Barry a valuable adviser.

"I have never come across anyone who is a more dedicated student of philanthropy," O'Keefe said.

In addition to giving to education, the foundation contributes to health associations, religious organizations and performing arts.


The Barry Foundation's mission statement says emphasis is placed on "proactive philanthropy where opportunity is created to benefit individuals and communities both locally and globally."

Barry's background

Barry, a Fargo native, earned a business administration degree from UND in 1963 with a major in banking and finance. He also attended Concordia College.

After graduation, he pursued a career in banking and joined American National Bank & Trust Co. in St. Paul. In 1974, he resigned his position as executive vice president and chief lending officer to start his own banking organization.

He also has owned several diversified financial service companies and a chemical manufacturing company.

He was majority owner of Sun Country Airlines from 1988 to 1997, selling it for a reported $41 million.

"How could one not be involved in a diverse range of business interests when your father was R.H. 'Dick' Barry, a renowned financial consultant?" Jim Miller, executive director of the NDSU Development Foundation, said at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Today, Barry owns MidAmerica Capital Partners in Newport, a company that provides services for Barry family investments and business interests.


Barry created a buzz in 1998 when he began building a mansion on the south side of Pelican Lake in Minnesota.

The property includes the main house, which is the size of a small hotel, a guest house, a boathouse and a cottage. The value of the combined properties is $7.45 million, according to the Otter Tail County assessor's office.

Barry also owns a home in the Phoenix area valued at $5.58 million, property assessments show.

Whether the topic was business or curiosity about his lake mansion, Barry has repeatedly declined media interview requests.

Stories in the Star Tribune about Barry's sale of Sun Country referred to him as "publicity shy."

When it comes to his philanthropy, Barry aims to maintain that low profile.

The amount his foundation gave for the NDSU College of Business project is not being disclosed.

Although media were invited to last week's groundbreaking ceremony, Barry declined to be interviewed before or after the ceremony in his honor. NDSU Development Foundation officials whisked Barry away immediately after the ceremony to a bus reserved for the family and VIPs.


Johnson, foundation vice chairman, said the organization has a quiet culture and does not seek publicity.

"We hopefully can do good and improve the community just through the acts, and we don't seek or look for a lot of press or publicity," Johnson said. "That's just the way that we do business."

- Established in 1986 in Minnesota, transferred to North Dakota in September 2006

- Chairman: B. John Barry

- Assets in 2005:

$48.6 million, ranking No. 36 among Minnesota's top

private foundations

- North Dakota's largest foundation had $41 million that year.


- Total giving in 2005:

$1.2 million

- Directors: Barry's adult children, Thomas Barry, Michael Barry and Jessica Barry

Sources: Tax documents

and The Foundation Center

Readers can reach Forum reporter Amy Dalrymple at (701) 241-5590 Barry quietly supports region's higher education Amy Dalrymple 20071013

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