FARGO - Nate White caught the eye of Kelby Krabbenhoft, the president and CEO of Sanford Health, when White was captain of the Augustana College basketball team in Sioux Falls, S.D..

White spent a year as an executive intern at Krabbenhoft's side and later, after graduating from law school, joined Sanford's legal department.

White, 39, was named chief operating officer in 2012 and now has been tapped to assume Sanford's top leadership role here. Beginning in August, after Sanford's new medical center opens July 25, White will become executive vice president, based in Fargo.

"I've been able to see the transformation of an organization," White said Tuesday, May 16, at the new medical center, which is hosting receptions and tours in preparation for the opening.

White will succeed Paul Richard, a longtime Sanford lawyer and executive, who announced earlier this year that he will be retiring.

"You can feel the energy starting to rise with the staff and the physicians," White said, referring to the hubbub of preparations, including training staff and installing equipment and furnishings. "You just get the sense of why we do this."

White joined the health organization in 2006, when it was Sioux Valley Hospital in Sioux Falls. Sanford Health merged with MeritCare Health, based in Fargo, in 2009.

After subsequent mergers, including health systems in Bismarck and Bemidji, Minn., Sanford now has revenues approaching $5 billion, with 45 hospitals and 28,000 employees, making it one of the nation's largest.

Krabbenhoft, who has been the driving force behind that growth, expressed confidence in White's abilities.

"I've known since I met him that he has the drive and the knowledge to be an asset to our company and the communities we serve," Krabbenhoft said in a statement. "I'm thrilled to see what he does in Fargo, and I believe in him both personally and professionally."

For his part, White expressed thanks for the opportunities and mentorship Krabbenhoft has provided him.

"It has been a remarkable experience, just learning about Sanford and watching Kelby," he said. "Kelby's been generous to me, not only the opportunities, but the time he's provided."

The new $494 million medical center, located near Veterans Boulevard and Interstate 94, signifies Sanford's goal of offering a full spectrum of health services so the region's residents don't have to travel long distances for their medical care, White said,

"We want to become the destination for the community, first and foremost, but also for the entire region," he said. "We want to provide convenience and access as close to home as possible."

Sanford, which is hiring almost 500 new employees for the medical center, not including about 100 physicians, is ahead of its hiring goals. In preparation for the opening, Sanford has been hiring physicians, including specialists, for several years.

White grew up on a farm near Wakonda in southeast South Dakota homesteaded by his great-great grandfather. After graduating from Augustana in 2000, he earned a law degree from the University of Kansas School of Law in Lawrence.

Before joining Sanford's legal department, White worked for a couple of years at a large Washington, D.C., law firm practicing corporate law.

He and his wife, Annette, also an attorney at Sanford, have two children and will live in West Fargo.