Phyllis Sander Honored with Gift to Brookings Health System Foundation’s Capital Campaign

Posted: 11/2/2015

Phyllis Sander graduated as a nurse in 1960 from St. John McNamara School of Nursing in Rapid City. She spent 32 years of her career as a nurse at Brookings Health System’s hospital, working in nearly every hospital department. During her career she also supported her husband, Duane, with his entrepreneurial pursuits as a co-founder of Daktronics, Inc.Nurses impact the lives of the people they care for. One nurse who spent her career at Brookings Health System’s hospital impacted lives so profoundly it prompted Daktronics, Inc. and its senior leadership to bestow a gift to Brookings Health System Foundation in her honor.

Phyllis Sander, the wife of Daktronics co-founder Duane Sander, worked as a nurse at Brookings Hospital for 32 years. Phyllis currently lives with Alzheimer’s disease, but throughout her life she’s given of herself to others.

“It’s just part of Phyllis’ makeup to be helpful and caring for people,” said Duane. “Even to this day she continues to try to help people as much as she is able.”

Phyllis worked in nearly every hospital department and served as a nursing supervisor, an educator and instructor for care providers, and an acting director of nursing. She also served on the Board of Directors for the South Dakota Nursing Association from 1984 to 1988 and was named Health Educator of the Year in 1992 by the South Dakota Chapter of ASHET.

But in addition to her successful nursing career, Phyllis had another nurturing role: as one of the great women behind the great men to start Daktronics. Both Duane and his co-founder, Al Kurtenbach, credit their wives, Phyllis and Irene, for giving them support, especially during the early years of the business.

Duane and Phyllis Sander, left, stand with fellow Daktronics co-founders Irene and Al Kurtenbach at the National Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2000. Both Duane and Al credit their wives for helping to launch Daktronics, including hosting employee gatherings in their homes. Phyllis’ founding role in the company and her dedication to nursing prompted Daktronics to bestow a gift to Brookings Health System Foundation for the hospital expansion and renovation project in her honor.“They weren’t directly involved, but were very supportive in a number of ways, one of which was of course taking care of the family,” said Duane. “There were still all sorts of things to take the kids to—swimming lessons, piano, sports. Phyllis and Irene also for a number of years worked together to have Daktronics parties and host the entire workforce around our kitchen tables.”

In addition to hosting, Phyllis’ support included looking toward the future.

“She’s a visionary kind of person,” recalled Al. “She was willing to invest with Duane in this risky operation called Daktronics back in the beginning.”

And even with the additional responsibilities as an entrepreneur’s wife, Phyllis still managed to work in nursing, a goal since her childhood in Lead, S.D. In 1960 she graduated from St. John McNamara School of Nursing in Rapid City and served as a staff nurse at Homestake Hospital in Lead. When she and Duane wed in November 1960, she followed him to Iowa and worked at the Story City Hospital. In 1967, the family settled in Brookings. Duane worked as an electrical engineering professor at SDSU and Phyllis worked part-time at Brookings Hospital.

She became a nurse supervisor in 1969. At the time, the nurse supervisor didn’t just oversee care at the hospital, but also at the nursing home, pitching in wherever help was needed.

“As a supervisor, she was very fair,” said RN Priscilla Hill, a retired nurse who worked with Phyllis in the emergency room. “She’s a great person and she was knowledgeable. If you had any issues, you could always go to Phyllis and she’d be willing to come help out.”

“Her strength was that of tremendous compassion,” said Dr. Rick Holm, a physician from Avera Medical Group who worked with Phyllis for 20 years to provide continuing education to care providers.

The two worked side-by-side to make Brookings Hospital one of the first accredited Continuing Medical Education sites in the state. Dr. Holm credits the success in part to Phyllis’ organizational skills and stick-to-it-iveness.

“The education she helped provide for doctors and nurses made them better care providers,” said Dr. Holm.

Phyllis’ commitment to continuing medical education and compassion for others will carry on with Daktronics gift to the hospital expansion and renovation project. The conference room in the new Medical/Surgical Inpatient Care unit will be dedicated in her honor. The room will be used for continuing nurse education and patient care conferences.

“Daktronics is pleased to recognize Phyllis’ contributions to local health care and to the start of our organization with our gift to Brookings Health System Foundation,” said Daktronics President and CEO Reece Kurtenbach. “Daktronics believes that a strong business community and high-quality health care is necessary for a thriving community. We are headquartered in Brookings and our commitment to this significant project is in such a way that recognizes one of our co-founders.”

The Foundation’s capital campaign total is currently $3.2 million; the campaign’s goal is to raise $4.6 million. To learn more about the campaign and how you can give, please visit

About Brookings Health System Foundation

The mission of Brookings Health System Foundation is “Inspiring people to support Brookings Health System through philanthropy, recognizing the vital role of local healthcare in sustaining quality of life in our community.” Gifts to the Foundation support charity health care for those less fortunate, health and wellness education, facility, equipment, and technology upgrades and other needs as they arise at Brookings Health System. For more information about Brookings Health System Foundation or how you may contribute, please contact Foundation Officer Barb Anderson at (605) 696-8855 or

About Brookings Health System

Brookings Health System, located in Brookings, South Dakota, includes a 49-bed hospital, the 79-bed The Neighborhoods at Brookview nursing home, Brookhaven Estates senior living apartments, Yorkshire Eye Clinic, Arlington Medical Center, White Medical Clinic and Volga Medical Clinic. It is a non-profit, city-owned facility that offers the community a full range of inpatient, outpatient, surgical and extended care services. The emergency room is staffed 24 hours a day and provides around the clock patient needs ranging from minor injuries to life threatening crises. For more information about the services offered at Brookings Health System, please call (605) 696-9000 or visit us on the Web at