Entrepreneur, sportsman, and philanthropist, Harold Siebens was born December 23, 1905, in Storm Lake. Though he moved to St. Louis with his parents when he was a young child, as a teenager he spent every summer with his grandparents in Storm Lake where he fished to earn his spending money. He later credited this experience with helping to form his great love of nature, fishing and hunting, his strong work ethic, and his entrepreneurial spirit.
In his early twenties, Harold returned to Storm Lake to run the “Bargain Basement” on Lake Avenue for his father, Walter, who was operating a wholesale business from St. Louis. Harold credited this experience with teaching him how to creatively market goods. It also deepened his bonds with his hometown.
Returning to St. Louis, Harold transformed his father’s business into the American Sporting Goods Company, one of the largest retail and mail order sporting goods companies in the country. During World War II, the company supplied recreational equipment for the Armed Services.
After selling American Sporting Goods in 1948, Harold decided to take some time before deciding on his next business venture. His grandfather, George Siebens, had been involved in the Alaskan gold rush of 1898, and Harold wanted to show his teenage children what George Siebens had seen.
They arranged a great family adventure; they would be among the first civilians to travel the Alcan Highway, which was built by the U.S. military during World War II. They planned to fish and hunt throughout the trip and document their adventures on film, hoping to sell it to the new television industry.
During this trip they passed through Edmonton, Alberta, where they were introduced to various government officials. The Canadian Minister of Mineral Resources wanted to publicize the booming oil business and believed the Siebens family’s documentary would be a good vehicle. The Minister arranged to allow them to film the Atlantic Leduc #3 oil well which had blown out of control and was disgorging over a million barrels of oil and millions of cubic feet of natural gas.
Harold returned to Canada after the wilderness trip because he had been impressed by the potential of what he had seen in the spectacular gusher. He began buying mineral rights throughout the region because he reasoned that the key to financial success in the oil business lay not in drilling the hole, but in owning the mineral rights. With an initial investment of $50,000, within one year Harold sold the rights for $1 million.
Buena Vista awarded Harold Walter Siebens an honorary doctorate in recognition of his business entrepreneurship and leadership in the petroleum industry. Dr. Siebens was highly respected in the Canadian oil industry because he was a man of his word. He formed and sold several lease-holding companies and held energy interests worldwide before he finally sold to Dome Petroleum in 1978.
He then began what may be viewed as his most enduring work: philanthropy. In 1980 he made an anonymous gift of $18 million to Buena Vista in order to build a school of business. He subsequently allowed the Harold Walter Siebens School of Business to be named in his honor because he hoped his modest background, love of adventure and deep belief in business ethics would inspire young men and women to become entrepreneurs.
Dr. Siebens further honored his family by creating an endowment in each of their names at Buena Vista University: The Estelle Siebens Science Center Endowment, The Gloria Siebens Freund Career Services Center Endowment, The Nancy Siebens Binz Building Endowment, The William W. Siebens American Heritage Lecture Series Endowment, The Stewart D. Siebens Technology Center Endowment, and the Mary Jane Siebens Scholarship Endowment.
Because he believed that we should all strive to leave the world a better place than we found it, before his death in 1989 Dr. Siebens also made gifts to other institutions and organizations. Recipients of his generosity include the Mayo Clinic, The Principia, Miami Heart Institute, Toronto General Hospital, Ducks Unlimited, and in Calgary, the YMCA and the Siebens Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame, site of the 1988 Winter Games. Moreover, he established a Foundation so that his philanthropy could continue.