DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO) — John Pappajohn, who along with his wife Mary created an amazing legacy of business success and later a dedication to public art, passed away on Saturday at the age of 94.
Pappajohn amassed a fortune as a venture capitalist and reinvested most of that fortune in his home state, establishing an eponymous sculpture park in downtown Des Moines and gifting millions to his alma mater, the University of Iowa.
According to a biography on the school’s website, John Pappajohn was born in Greece on July 31st, 1928. He and his mother moved to the US a few months later, reuniting with his father who was working in Iowa already. John Pappajohn worked his way through college at the University of Iowa. He began his business career in the insurance industry, but in the 1970s became one of America’s first venture capitalists. Through his investments in the medical and home care industries he became an American business titan.
As his fortune grew, so did John Pappajohn’s philanthropic gifts. The University of Iowa’s business school is housed in a building named for Pappajohn thanks to a 1993 gift. He and Mary gave the money to fund a Cancer Pavillion at University of Iowa Hospitals. Entrepreneur Centers in his name are on the campuses of Iowa, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Drake Universities as well as NIACC. In 2021 he joined WHO 13 for a one-on-one interview to talk about his lifetime of giving.
The Pappajohn name is best known by Des Moines residents for the downtown sculpture park that John and Mary created. The public space, decorated with millions of dollars of the Pappajohns’ personal sculptures, opened in 2009. The 32nd piece to be displayed at the park was installed earlier this month.
Mary Pappajohn passed away last March at the age of 88. The couple is survived by their daughter, Ann, and two grandchildren.