Humphrey School News—October 8, 2019

Remembering Humphrey School Supporter Charles Denny

Successful businessman and philanthropist endowed STEP program

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Charles Denny stands next to Valerie Spencer in the atrium of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Charles Denny with philanthropist Valerie Spencer at a Humphrey School event in 2018.

Business leader and philanthropist Charles M. Denny Jr., a longtime supporter of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs who died last week at age 88, is being remembered not only for his support of the School, but also for the way he lived his life. 

School leaders and faculty members described him as a wonderful person, a trusted mentor, and a gentle soul; a generous man who established the Charles M. Denny Jr. Endowed Chair in Science, Technology, and Public Policy in 1999 to support research and public service activities in science policy. 

“This tremendous contribution from Chuck and his wife, Carol, has opened countless opportunities for our students and faculty to engage with world-leading scholars in science, technology, and environmental policy,” said Humphrey School Dean Laura Bloomberg. “Because of their generosity, Chuck and Carol Denny's commitment to science policy will live on through generations. I am forever grateful to them both.”

Denny served for 21 years as CEO of ADC Telecommunications, a Minneapolis-based Fortune 500 company that became a leader in the field of broadband communications. He retired in 1991, but was active in a wide variety of community organizations and supported activities throughout the University of Minnesota and other area colleges and universities. 

The Denny Chair was most recently held by Professor Anu Ramaswami, who remembers him as an "amazing person." 

“I was often struck by Chuck's mastery of science and environmental issues and his passion for policy, particularly as they impacted Minnesota and the Twin Cities,” Ramaswami said. “Personally, I will remember Chuck always with a twinkle in his eye, ever chivalrous, enthusiastic about the STEP program's growth, and steadfast with his community engagement. His optimism and positive energy will always be an inspiration to me.”

Professor Emerita Deborah Swackhamer, who held the Denny Chair from 2009 to 2012, added, “What I admired most about Chuck was how he lived his life. His family always came first. He tutored kids from disadvantaged areas in Minneapolis. His priorities and actions were always clear. He did good with his life.”

Denny was a strong advocate of corporate responsibility and ethical business practices. In the 1990s, he led the Minnesota Center for Corporate Responsibility, and played a pivotal role in drafting the Minnesota Principles, a set of ethical guidelines developed by leaders of global business enterprises. 

Denny had served on the Humphrey School Dean’s Advisory Council from 2000 to 2018, and more recently was a member of the School’s Honorary Council. Bloomberg called him one of her “most trusted mentors.”  

“Chuck’s guidance over the years has had a substantial impact on how I view my role as a leader, through my conversations with him and my observations of the genuine and always respectful way he interacted with anyone he met,” Bloomberg said. “I will miss him terribly.”

Denny was awarded an honorary doctor of laws by the Humphrey School in 2006.

He is survived by two children, five grandchildren, and a brother. Carol, his wife of 55 years,  died in 2012. Services are pending. 

Read more about Denny’s life and legacy in the Star Tribune.

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