"I am deeply honored," Huntsman Sr. said in a statement. "There are obviously many great Americans who are far more deserving than I am to receive this honor. I have enjoyed every moment of assisting the underserved and needy."
Huntsman's first major contribution came in 1987, when he gave the University of Utah $5 million. U. administrators thanked him by naming the basketball arena in his honor.
He has given big amounts of money to other universities and colleges, teaching awards, the YWCA, Catholic charities geared toward the homeless and hungry and earthquake victims in Armenia, among others.
He is best known for the more than $450 million he has contributed to the creation and subsequent expansion of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, which is associated with the U.
In all, he has given more than $1.5 billion to charity throughout his life, making him one of only roughly two-dozen people who have given away more than $1 billion.
Huntsman, 78, has a net worth of $1.1 billion, according to Forbes. He plans to give the bulk of his remaining money away, having signed the Giving Pledge, pushed by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. Signers promise to give half their wealth away. Huntsman, in a 2013 interview with The New York Times, said that goal is too low.
"My suggestion was to give 80 percent away. Why do they need half of $10 billion to live on?" he said. "The people I particularly dislike are those who say, 'I'm going to leave it in my will.' What they're really saying is, 'If I could live forever, I wouldn't give any of it away.' "
Huntsman said his desire to give is in part rooted in his upbringing. He grew up in southern Idaho, in a house that had no indoor plumbing, before his father, an educator, went to graduate school in California.
"Throughout my life, I have hustled to outrun the shadow of poverty," he said in his biography, "Barefoot to Billionaire."
Huntsman, who has expressed interest in buying The Salt Lake Tribune, made his first fortune by creating Styrofoam packaging for eggs and fast-food restaurants. Huntsman Corp. has since expanded into specialty chemicals. Huntsman is the chairman of the company, while Peter Huntsman, his son, is the CEO. Huntsman's eldest son, Jon Huntsman Jr., is the former governor of Utah and the former ambassador to China. A presidential candidate in 2012, Huntsman Jr. is now leading a foreign policy think tank in Washington, D.C., and said he may run for elective office again in the future.
The Carnegie Corp. created the philanthropy medal in 2001 and previously has given it to 38 individuals and families. The full list of the 2015 honorees: Huntsman, Allen, Rubenstein, Charles F. Feeney, Jeremy and Hanne Grantham, The Haas Family, Joan and Irwin Jacobs, and Robert B. Menschel with Richard L. Menschel.