Lyda Hill, a renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist who summers in Colorado Springs and has spent millions supporting the city’s outdoor spaces and educational institutions, has been named one of five recipients of the 2022 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.
She shares the philanthropic spotlight with four other "forces for positive change," including country music legend Dolly Parton.
The medal, one of the most prestigious honors in philanthropy, has been awarded to more than 65 honorees since 2001 with the goal of inspiring “a culture of giving by honoring innovative philanthropists,” according to the award’s website. The medal is bestowed by the family of more than 20 Carnegie institutions in the United States and Europe founded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
A Dallas native, Hill has spent summers in Colorado Springs for most of her life. Her entrepreneurial career began in 1967, when she started a travel agency in Dallas that became the city's largest by the time she sold it in 1982.
Years later, she and a partner redeveloped the Fort Worth Stockyards into a shopping area and tourist attraction and founded the Oklahoma Breast Care Center in Oklahoma City and a Dallas venture capital fund that invests in early biomedical research companies. She also is president of the Lyda Hill Foundation, which supports increasing the understanding of nature and science, and LH Holdings Inc.
A few years after beginning her travel business, Hill became president of Seven Falls, the Colorado Springs tourist attraction built by her father, and served in that capacity for 40 years. She said she fell in love with the area's scenic beauty, particularly the famous vista of Pikes Peak framed by the red rocks of Garden of the Gods Park, and she's played a crucial role in the park’s development.
Hill built the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center in 1995 to generate funding for maintenance and other projects in the city’s best-known park. The center was started as a for-profit business that donated its profits to the Garden of the Gods Foundation she formed to finance upkeep of Garden of the Gods Park and later gave the center to the foundation. She spent another $6 million in 2015 to renovate and expand the center.
In 2019, Hill received the local Palmer Land Trust’s Stuart P. Dodge Award, which honors lifetime achievement in conservation. The Lyda Hill Foundation has made grants to many conservation organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, the Colorado Water Trust, the Rocky Mountain Field Institute and the Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department.
The University of Colorado Colorado Springs and more than a dozen local nonprofits also have received donations from Hill.
Hill gave $5 million to UCCS to open the Veteran Health and Trauma Clinic in 2014, launch the UCCSTeach program that trains math and science teachers, support the Heller Center for Arts & Humanities and build the Ent Center for the Arts. She ranked 35th in The Chronicle of Philanthropy's annual list of 50 most generous Americans in 2013, donating $63.2 million.
In 2020, Hill donated $8 million to create the Lyda Hill Institute for Human Resilience at UCCS to address the mental health challenges of individuals and groups impacted by trauma from natural disasters, violence, pandemics and accidents, including first responders, emergency personnel, active-duty military and veterans.
A self-proclaimed "philentrepreneur," Hill has focused the rest of her life on combining philanthropy with entrepreneurship. Never married, Hill has no children, and said she told her nieces and nephews not to expect an inheritance since becoming one of 236 individuals and couples worldwide to sign the "Giving Pledge," an initiative by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda French Gates to donate their entire fortune to charity, the bulk of it during their lifetime.
"In my case, I am giving away 100% of my fortune, and I am working hard to give it away in my lifetime so I can enjoy (doing) it," Hill said in 2015. "I can do more for my nieces and nephews by leaving behind a better world, and I know enough about business and philanthropic investing that I have the background to help make the world a better place for everybody."
This year's recipients also include Manu Chandaria and Lynn and Stacy Schusterman. The recipients are set to be honored on Oct. 13 during a private ceremony in New York City.