Hard work and gratitude: How a man from Iran built a life in the US

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PIERRE, S.D. (KSFY) -- If you've lived in Pierre, South Dakota for any stretch of time, it's a good bet you're familiar with the name Mansour Karim. The story of his life serves as an inspiration to many who call the capitol city their home.

He immigrated from Iran to the United States more than 50 years ago, looking for a better life and an opportunity to go to college. Since then he has graduated from South Dakota State University, started a family, and donated more than $2 million to the community.

His story has a humble beginning.

"On some days, I could only eat once a day. That was all of my budget, but I didn't care. I was young. I was very excited to be in the United States," said Karim.

Karim, now in his late 80s, said his story begin more than 70 years ago in Iran.

"I had a few good friends in high school and they were all pretty rich. I was the only one who was poor," he said.

He said he grew up in very poor and very harsh conditions with a family that eked out a living.

People from the lower classes of society in Iran in the late 1940s and early 1950s had no chance of attending college, but Karim had a friend who wanted him to have more.

"His father was a banker so he gave me enough money to take a trip from Spain to the United States," said Karim.

The plan was for Karim to travel from Spain to New Jersey, and from there go to Michigan. Another friend suggested a different path to South Dakota.

So, Karim arrived in South Dakota in 1950 and attended South Dakota State University. He said his first year was miserable.

Karim had barely a working knowledge of the English language, but all of his classes were taught entirely in English. He either had to figure it out or he would fail. On top of that, he had no real job. But Karim was no failure.

"No, I was young. Determination. I didn't care if I was hungry. It did not affect me," he said.

Karim figured out English, earned a degree in engineering and was hired by the South Dakota Department of Transportation in Pierre.

With the money he earned, he built housing units in Pierre and became the landlord. He was generous with the money he earned along the way though.

"Gibing back to others is more valuable than what you get," said Jess Karim, Mansour Karim's daughter-in-law. "He isn't a person with money that spends a lot on himself. He hasn't done that at all."

To understand Mansour Karim, you need to understand how grateful he is for the life he's had. He married the love of his life and raised a family with her. Then he had to learn how to survive without her when she passed away a few years ago.

His gratefulness isn't something he keeps on the inside. He shows it by sharing what he has earned.

"It's just been really cool to see that toward the end of his life, he's able to be considerate and wants to give back," said Jess Karim.

This humble man from Iran, who grew up dirt poor, but wished for a better life and didn't know if he would have one, donated $1.4 million to his alma mater, South Dakota State University. He's grateful for the education he earned there.

"It's pretty outstanding. He's very grateful," said Jess Karim.

He donated another $1 million to the Boys and Girls Club of Pierre because he wants to help kids know that if they dream, they can do it, no matter what their background might be.

"When I see those kids, it gives me the biggest smile. There is no price for those smiles. I really love them. God has blessed me," said Mansour Karim.

He recently moved into an assisted living arrangement, but he said it will not diminish his energy one bit. He plans to continue to give thanks however he can to his adopted state and adopted hometown.

Read the original version of this article at ksfy.com.