Published: Jan. 12, 2024 By

Anna and Joan J. Sie.Photo: Anna and John J. Sie.

Known for her heartfelt philanthropy on both local and national levels, Anna Sie dedicated her life to supporting causes she felt passionate about, including students and faculty at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“She was really the most generous human being that I’ve ever met,” said CU Boulder alumna Michele Ritter (Anth’81) and University of Colorado Foundation trustee. “She really cared about people and issues, and if something came her way and she was able to make an impact—to make someone’s life better or to help in a broader way—she never missed an opportunity. She had this spirit about her that was open, generous, heartfelt and authentic.”

Sie left a powerful legacy of impact at CU Boulder, establishing a transformational student scholarship in the College of Music with her husband, John, and endowing several faculty chairs. 

“At the College of Music, we aim to offer our students diverse opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration,” said John Davis, the college’s dean. “Such broad-based opportunities rely in no small part on the active, consistent engagement of our community of supporters. Anna Sie’s dedication to our college both indelibly impacted our students, programs and activities, and influenced others’ giving." 

“Anna Sie was extraordinarily committed to giving back, and in countless arenas, that is exactly what she and John accomplished for many years,” agreed Daniel Sher, College of Music dean emeritus. 

“Anna was a superb partner with John, and she will be remembered for her generosity of spirit as much as philanthropic generosity.”

Changing lives through scholarships

Sie’s love of music led to the sponsorship of a student scholarship program at CU Boulder’s College of Music, which changed the lives of more than a dozen former students, including the accomplished opera singer Wei Wu (MMus’13).

After hearing then-student Wu perform at Central City Opera in 2007, the Sies were struck by the raw talent of this young man, explained Ritter. His performance inspired the couple to generously contribute to CU Boulder’s Eklund Opera Fund—specifically to support two Chinese opera singers, Wu and Yang Bo, beginning in the 2008-09 academic year.

Now a Grammy Award-winning bass, Wu trained at the People University of China, Beijing, before continuing his education at CU Boulder.

“Auntie Anna, also known as Mrs. Sie, always humbly said, ‘I am only a small part of your success,’” shared Wu. “However, I know deep down that her and Uncle John’s kindness and generosity played a significant role in my achievements.” 

He continued, “She never expected anything in return, always welcoming me into her family with open arms. We cooked, laughed and shared countless memories together. She made me feel like I had a true family in the U.S. 

“Now, I proudly make my Metropolitan Opera debut dedicated to Auntie Anna—a new production of Carmen opening on New Year’s Eve, one of the important performance events of the whole season. I hope to keep carrying her spirit of philanthropy forward and make her proud.”

Cultivating culture in higher education and beyond

Sie also established several faculty chairs at Front Range universities, including the Anna Maglione-Sie Chair in Italian Language & Literature at the University of Denver; and the Dan & Boyce Sher Chair at CU Boulder’s College of Music. Faculty chair positions are important opportunities on campus, as they help provide talented faculty with the flexibility and resources to pursue their creative work in a university setting.

Sie received recognition through many awards for her philanthropic work and holds an honorary doctorate in higher education at the University of Denver, an honorary doctorate in humane letters from the University of Colorado and an honorary doctorate from Regis University. 

Beyond higher education, Sie helped enrich Denver’s cultural offerings. As the home of Denver Film, the Sie FilmCenter was established in 2010 and features the finest in independent and world cinema. The Sie FilmCenter also regularly hosts festivals, program series and other special events that bring filmgoers and filmmakers together to celebrate the art of film. 

Sie also established the prestigious annual Italian Filmmaker Award at the Denver Film Festival.

“She was an immigrant child from southern Italy and she said she learned her English by watching movies,” noted Ritter. “She loved American movies. Everything she did was about giving back and about drawing on her own personal experiences—sometimes challenges and struggles—to make it easier for other people that might be also experiencing those [same] challenges and struggles.”

A loving legacy rooted in family

Sie immigrated from Napoli, Italy, to New York City with her family at age 10. She graduated from Watchung Regional High School in New Jersey, and while she was not permitted to attend college, she went on to accept a role as a switchboard operator at Microstate Electronics—where she met John Sie, her future husband of 56 years. 

Together, they forged their own American dream, building a loving family of five children along with a legacy of giving back to the community.

A pivotal legacy that Sie held close to her heart was inspired by Sophia, the first of the Sie’s six grandchildren, who has Down syndrome. 

In 2009, the couple established the Anna and John J. Sie Quasi Endowment Fund for the BioFrontiers Institute. These funds were used to support research toward the eradication of the ill effects of the extra Chromosome 21 for people with Down syndrome.

To significantly improve the lives of people with Down syndrome through research, medical care, education and advocacy on a national level, Anna and John also established the Global Down Syndrome Foundation in Denver that same year.

“The Global Down Syndrome Foundation … not only has benefited her granddaughter, but has benefited everyone who has Down syndrome in the world and their families—including my sister,” said Ritter.

“So it’s been … this movement really to help a very vulnerable demographic that hasn’t received much attention and oftentimes has been shunned and institutionalized. She totally changed the landscape … about the way people with Down syndrome are treated, perceived and cared for.”

Sie further worked to co-found organizations affiliated with the Global Down Syndrome Foundation—including the Linda Crnic Institute for Down Syndrome and the Alzheimer’s & Cognition Center, both on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus; the Anna & John J. Sie Center for Down Syndrome at Children’s Hospital Colorado; and the pilot GLOBAL Adult Down Syndrome Center at Denver Health. 

Additionally, the recent GLOBAL Inclusive Program was launched at Regis University thanks to Sie’s generosity, which serves as the first post-secondary program for students with intellectual disabilities at a Jesuit university and the second at a Catholic university in the United States.

“She will be remembered for her deep commitment to the values of the many organizations in which they [Anna and John] made their investments,” said Sher — including the University of Colorado Boulder. 

“We will also remember Anna for the gift of her friendship, which we held dear and still do, and for her extraordinarily deep devotion to her family.”

To learn more about Sie’s life, view photos and read a poem she wrote, visit the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.