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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 20, 2024


May 2, 2004 – Henry L. Kimelman awoke in his New York hotel suite on Sunday morning and retired there on Sunday night. In between, he flew 3,000 miles to Mitchell, S.D., and back for what he described on Monday as "a highlight of my life" – the receipt of an honorary doctorate degree.
Mitchell is the home of Dakota Wesleyan University, which will one day be home to the George and Eleanor McGovern Library and Center for Public Service.
Kimelman, a St. Thomas businessman whose philanthropy is well known in the territory, has in recent years headed the campaign to raise funds for the library, which will house the papers of his longtime friend, the South Dakota senator and 1972 presidential candidate.
The national campaign steering committee which he chairs includes the U.S. Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle; former U.S. senator and presidential candidate Robert Dole; newspaper executive Al Neuharth; onetime Peace Corps director R. Sargent Shriver; and Morris Dees, founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
To date, about $7 million has been raised, putting the campaign close enough to the start-up point that Kimelman said on Monday "we are hoping to break ground in the next few months." Construction is expected to take about 16 months, he said.
Partly in recognition of his contributions as chair of the campaign committee for the library project, Dakota Wesleyan on Sunday conferred an honorary doctor of humane letters degree on the 83-year-old Kimelman.
The university had a graduating class of 148 and Kimelman was the only person designated to receive an honorary degree. When he learned of the honor, he already had an important appointment the next morning in New York, and he admitted he "was tempted to ask George to receive the degree for me, because it was going to be rather a hectic day. Mitchell is not an easy place to get to."
There aren't any commercial flights into the airport of the South Dakota prairie town, he said. That, however, was not to be a critical factor; having decided to make the trip, Kimelman flew with his wife, Charlotte, their son John and a couple of friends by private jet.
"It was beyond my expectations," he said of his brief sojourn in Mitchell. The graduation ceremony took place in the Corn Palace, the town's greatest claim to fame — a rococo exposition hall that is billed as "the agricultural showplace of the world" and looks as if it might have been morphed from Moscow's Red Square.
McGovern was the "pre-introducer" for the conferring of the honorary degree, and "there were almost three thousand people at the ceremony," Kimelman said.
Before the ceremony, the Kimelmans were the guests of the McGoverns, who have a home on the campus of the university – which is where George and Eleanor met as students in the early 1940s. Then they all attended a luncheon hosted by Dakota Wesleyan's president, Robert G. Duffett.
At the luncheon, "much to my surprise," Kimelman said, Duffett read aloud a letter received from St. Thomas developer Ricardo Charaf, board chair of the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands – for which the Kimelmans were the founding benefactors. "He wrote the most complimentary letter to the president of the university, saying all Virgin Islanders felt proud of the honor I was receiving and mentioning the Kimelman Center on St. Thomas."
Ground was broken for the center, formally the Charlotte Kimelman Cancer Institute, last September. Charlotte Kimelman for years spearheaded fund-raising efforts of Partners for Health on St. Thomas, and the couple as of the groundbreaking had donated some $850,000 toward the center and pledged to donate $150,000 more, for a total contribution of $1 million.
"Kimelman's service to the world has been long and varied," a release from Dakota Wesleyan noted. He is currently vice chair of the Council of American Ambassadors and has been a director of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Library since 1989. He was formerly the chair and chief executive officer of West Indies Corp., chair of the West Indies Bank and Trust Co. executive committee and a consultant to Chase Manhattan Bank in the Virgin Islands.
He also was a director of Caribbean Atlantic Airlines, a consultant to British West Indian Airways and a director of LIAT. He is a founding board member and honorary trustee of the National Hospice Foundation and a recipient of Time magazine's Distinguished Businessman Award.
As V.I. commissioner of commerce in the 1960s, he helped to attract 28 new industries to the islands. In 1967, in the Johnson administration, he was chief of staff to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. From 1968 to 1972, he was director of the National Park Foundation.
He was finance chair of the McGovern presidential campaign, and President Jimmy Carter named him to serve as U.S. ambassador to Haiti.
A native New Yorker, Kimelman graduated from the Harvard School of Business in 1944. He and his wife took up residence on St. Thomas in 1950. Gov. Roy L. Schneider proclaimed Feb. 7, 1998, as Henry L. Kimelman Day in recognition of his public service and contributions to humanity. That, he said on Monday, was "the other highlight of my life."

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