Mitchell, Huron region remember 'a phenomenal man'
HURON—A giver. An influencer. A friendly face. A father.
People around the Mitchell and Huron region are feeling the loss of Earl Nordby, a local philanthropist and retired businessman who gave millions to support the communities he loved.
"Very disheartening news. He was just a phenomenal man," said Peggy Besch, manager of the South Dakota State Fair in Huron. "The world's a better place because of him."
Nordby, 85, of Huron, died Tuesday morning surrounded by his family at Huron Regional Medical Center, his daughter, Diane DesLauriers, said.
DesLauriers said her father was not in perfect health, but his death was unexpected, since he had maintained an active lifestyle.
Nordby owned the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company operations in multiple South Dakota towns, starting in Huron at a facility he took over from his parents in 1965.
At the time, the company sold RC Cola, but Nordby made the switch to Pepsi and expanded his cola empire to Mitchell, Chamberlain and Pierre, places for which he always reserved a place in his heart.
"He absolutely had an incredible love for the people of South Dakota and the communities, especially, of Huron, Mitchell, Chamberlain and Pierre," DesLauriers said. "He just loved his hometown, as he called it, communities and loved the people and loved the children."
Nordby showed his love in multiple ways, from sharing a smile to sharing his money.
DesLauriers said her father was passionate about music, education, nursing and sports, and his charitable gifts matched his interests.
Nordby's most recent major gift was a $1.5 million donation that went to the South Dakota State Fair for the construction of the $4.7 million Nordy Exhibit Hall, which will become the home of 4-H at the State Fair.
"He just did so much for the community of Huron and 4-Hers and the state fairgrounds," said Kathryn Henning with the South Dakota State Fair Foundation. "We're lucky to have had such a generous donor that provided this gift to us, or else we wouldn't be where we are at this point."
The hall is expected to be completed in July.
Before the gift to the State Fair, Nordby helped establish nursing programs at the Huron Regional Medical Center and Dakota Wesleyan University, DesLauriers said. He was a fan of opera and the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra, even sponsoring concerts that traveled to schools to play for students.
He was also a big supporter of ice hockey in Huron, and DesLauriers said his favorite sports team was the Dakota Wesleyan University football team. Nordby also helped fund the 10-field Pepsi Cola Soccer Complex in Mitchell with a $240,000 gift. The complex became the second facility in Mitchell named in Nordby's honor.
The first was Mitchell Area Community Theatre's auditorium, funded by a $100,000 gift that inspired other donors to give as well. The building was named the Pepsi-Cola Theatre for the Performing Arts.
"When you have him involved, people want to get involved," said Mitchell ACT Director Megan Reimnitz. "Really, without him, we would not have a theatre right now."
Nordby continued his support of Mitchell ACT in the years to follow, Reimnitz said, recently giving $1,000 to cater an event that benefited Mitchell ACT, the Mitchell Charitable Foundation and the local swim team.
Without Nordby's continuing financial support, Reimnitz said she expects the theater program to survive on its own, but that wouldn't have been possible without Nordby's initial investments.
"I think we're at a place because of his help that we're more self-sustaining, but it definitely wouldn't have happened without him," Reimnitz said.
Nordby traveled around the world, but South Dakota was always his home, and he shared his home state's praises wherever he went, DesLauriers said.
"He had just an enormous love for South Dakota and the communities and the people," she said.