Sanford board chair honored for impacting millions globally

"It was one of the best days of my life," says Manny Ohonme on Pontifical Hero Award

Emmanuel “Manny” Ohonme is changing the world simply by giving a pair of shoes, and hope, to children everywhere.

Ohonme, chair of the Sanford International Board, was recognized for his work as a recipient of the 2021 Pontifical Hero Award for Inspiration.

“I was overwhelmed. I was so shocked. It was one of the best days of my life,” Manny Ohonme told Sanford Health News.

With his wife Tracie, he founded Samaritan’s Feet in 2003. Since its inception, the organization has distributed over 8 million pairs of shoes in 108 different countries and more than 435 U.S. cities.

A surprise from the Vatican

In conjunction with the International Vatican Conference in Vatican City, every other year, the Pontifical Hero Award honors individuals who – through generosity, compassion, wisdom and leadership – have inspired hope. The award is organized by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Cura Foundation.

Ohonme is one of seven recipients of this honor.

“He’s certainly more than deserving,” Sanford Health executive vice president Micah Aberson told Sanford Health News.

Ohonme was presented the award during an intimate, surprise ceremony in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, with a virtual visit by Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, who heads the science and faith department of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

“Manny, of course, had no idea,” Aberson explained. “He is a tremendously articulate, charismatic, very gregarious individual. And for the first time ever, I saw Manny completely speechless. It was a great moment.”

A champion for global health, he was named chair of the nine-member Sanford International Board earlier this year after serving as vice chair for two years.

Read: Manny Ohonme named chair of Sanford International Board

“The Sanford International Board is populated by a cast of characters that are incredible, by way of the contributions they’ve made to humanity and certainly within their respective professions,” Aberson said.

“Manny receiving the award is just one more point of affirmation that he is deserving of not only the award, but also his seat on the Sanford International Board. It’s humbling to look around that room and think about the contributions and accomplishments of the people, who have so generously dedicated their time to our organization and help move forward our agenda, is something really special.”

Giving shoes, propelling hope

The adage “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” is a statement that few manage to truly grasp. Ohonme wants the recognition to lift up the opportunity everyone has to be a conduit for change and improve the human condition.

“We are not placed here by accident,” Ohonme explained.

“We are here to use our gifts and talents to make this world better. Love is surely the vehicle that’s going to help change this planet and we are privileged to be a part of that. It doesn’t matter how we begin … find the hurting in your community and make a difference.”

In 2016, Sanford Health was awarded the Pontifical Award for Innovation for its work within regenerative medicine, STEM cells and game-changing medical innovation exemplified by transformative thinking, creativity and ingenuity used to deliver quality medical care. In 2018, Denny Sanford was awarded the Pontifical Key Award for Philanthropy.

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Posted In Awards & Recognition, Community, Leadership in Health Care, People & Culture