Jim Hess’s Boundless Legacy

May 3, 2024 | Community Stories, Donor Stories

On early mornings, Jim Hess collected used golf balls from a golf course in Spearfish to resell at his convenience store. It was “double duty,” he told family and friends, because he enjoyed the exercise but also made a profit to donate to a charitable cause.  

Hess, the late businessman, counselor, and Black Hills State University professor, uplifted countless individuals in his lifetime. He believed in giving people the opportunity to succeed, using his generosity to unleash others’ potential. Now, his legacy will continue that work forever. 

At the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, Hess’s legacy sparks limitless impact by perpetually supporting the community he called home: the Northern Hills. Starting in 2024, Hess’s endowment will enable a yearly grant process, supporting innovative, long-term projects at Northern Hills nonprofits forever. 

“He really believed in the community, and he wanted to see these nonprofits get a chance,” said Hess’s former colleague Cheryl Anagnopoulos. As his endowment continues to grow, so will the Community Forward Grant, creating an ever-expanding wave of impact. 

His legacy “multiplies and multiplies and multiplies. That gives me goosebumps just thinking about that,” said his cousin Denise Webster. “It’s exponential—it’s humongous. That’s what he wanted.”     

Hess’s legacy also amplifies the impact of the Northern Hills by Choice giving circle, with his matching dollars set to double members’ contributions for several years. In 2023, his legacy enabled an infusion of $11,000 total into Northern Hills nonprofits. 

In addition to supporting nonprofits, Hess initiated the Make a Difference Scholarship at Black Hills State University, where awardees must manage a long-term project to benefit the campus or the local community.  

“He didn’t mind giving a hand up, he just didn’t like to give a handout,” Anagnopoulos remembers. Hess worked hard to afford the privilege of helping others succeed, and he wanted the recipients of his generosity to do the same.  

For example, Hess was known for helping his employees get out of difficult situations, so long as they put in the effort. He knew “they just need a little patience, a little help, a little kindness to get a new start,” said Doris Deis, his friend and former co-worker. 

The same generosity extended to Hess’s students. He encouraged them, validated their strivings, and earnestly shared his wisdom. 

Years later, former students would contact him to say, “You taught me in this year, and this is how you changed my life.”  

How else do friends and family describe him? He knew the value of the dollar; his friends teased him for collecting quarters from the sidewalk, and he always looked for the least expensive item on a menu. At formal gatherings, he would often be seen wearing jeans, as extravagance wasn’t important to him. He was nonjudgmental and unfailingly kind. 

Jim Hess and friend Doris Deis at a Spearfish Foundation for Public Education Event.

From Hess’s life and legacy, we learn that acts of kindness – small and large – open the doorway for people to make a difference in the world, in ways that may continue forever. 

“We need more people like that, and thankfully we do have people like that,” Webster said. “And that’s why our community gets expanded and grows in the right direction.”