John Pappajohn

A Man with a Mission

John Pappajohn was born in Saint Luke’s, Greece. John and his mother immigrated to Iowa when he was nine months old to join his father, who was a U.S. citizen. After graduating from Mason City high school and the University of Iowa, John Pappajohn started his own insurance business. In 1962, he moved to Des Moines and organized the Guardsman Life Insurance Company (a public company), where he was chairman of the board from 1962 to 1969. In 1969, he sold his interest and organized Equity Dynamics Inc., a financial consulting entity, and Pappajohn Capital Resources, a venture capital firm in Des Moines, Iowa. He was one of the early venture capitalists. John was involved in over 100 startups, over 50 IPOs and served as a Director in over 40 public companies. That same year, he also founded Pappajohn Capital Resources (a venture capital fund primarily investing in high-tech, medical, and healthcare projects). John’s portfolio of companies averaged a 40% annual return on investments over the last 40 years.

As a successful entrepreneur and generous philanthropist, John Pappajohn was recognized by many national organizations. Beta Gamma Sigma awarded Pappajohn a National Medallion for Entrepreneurship in 1997. In 1995, he was named a Horatio Alger Award recipient and was a member of the Horatio Alger Association Board of Directors. He was also on the board of the University of Iowa Foundation. He previously served on the board of Pine Manor College, Chestnut Hill, Mass. He was a member of several boards of the Kennedy Center continuously for more than 24 years. He was the recipient of four Honorary Doctorate degrees. He was also vice chairman of the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. He was the first Iowan to receive the National Philanthropist of the Year for the Arts. He and his wife, Mary, are listed as one of the top 200 art collectors in the world by Art News Magazine for years 1998 to 2014.

John and Mary Pappajohn were awarded the Iowa State University Honorary Alumnus/Alumna Award in 2005, and John was awarded the John Hughes Award for Entrepreneurial Advocacy from the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship in 2009.

John and Mary Pappajohn have gifted over $100 million to various philanthropic causes, including at the University of Iowa, to support the John Pappajohn Business Building, the Pappajohn Pavillion, the John and Mary Pappajohn Cancer Center, and the John and Mary Pappajohn Biomedical Research Building. Mr. Pappajohn organized and contributed over $25 million to establish the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Centers at five different universities and colleges in Iowa, including Iowa State University, to promote job creation in the state. John and Mary Pappajohn established a scholarship fund for ethnic, disadvantaged, and minority students and have granted more than $5 million in scholarships. They have provided nearly $750,000 in awards in Iowa for students and entrepreneurs participating in the annual Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Venture Competitions. The Pappajohns have contributed to the Des Moines Art Center and the National Gallery of Art. In 2007, they donated $30 million in sculptures to the Des Moines Art Center to create a new public art space. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is open to the public on 4.4 acres in downtown Des Moines Western Gateway Park.

John Pappajohn continued to be active in promoting and supporting entrepreneurship in Iowa and across the globe until his passing in April 2023.