Wealth Created by Wal-Mart Supports Massive Philanthropic Efforts in Arkansas

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2012 12:00 am  

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which Sam Walton’s daughter Alice opened in Bentonville on Nov. 11, 2011, represents the single largest philanthropic act made possible by Wal-Mart wealth in Arkansas, but innumerable other gifts have transformed medical, education and athletic institutions across the state.

Wal-Mart’s founder laid out his philanthropic philosophy in his 1992 autobiography, “Sam Walton: Made in America”:

“[W]e are committed to using our personal resources for as much benefit as possible — in the areas we feel need the most help, employing the methods we think hold the most promise. And our family’s gifts reflect a wide variety of interests, spread across numerous organizations, with a heavy emphasis on education.”

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance to the state of charitable giving funded by Wal-Mart riches, just as it’s nigh impossible to list every donation of consequence. In addition, much giving is private.

What follows are some of the highlights — space precludes a comprehensive account — of public acts of philanthropy in Arkansas.

• In 1973, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. gives $85,000 in shares to the UA to supplement the salaries of professors in the marketing department.

• In 1979, the Wal-Mart Foundation is incorporated as an avenue for giving by the corporation to the growing number of communities in which Wal-Mart Stores are located.

• In 1981, the Walton family, at Helen’s urging, donates $5 million to the UA for a performing arts center, seed money for what became the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, which opened in 1992.

• In 1986, Willard Walker and his wife, Pat, of Springdale give $100,000 toward a $5 million capital campaign for the Arkansas Cancer Research Center at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. (The center is later renamed to honor the late Arkansas Lt. Gov. Winthrop P. Rockefeller.)

Willard Walker was the first manager of Sam Walton’s Five & Dime store in Fayetteville and later managed a Wal-Mart Store in Springdale. When the company went public in 1970, Walker took out bank loans to buy as much stock as he could. He retired from Wal-Mart a wealthy man. In 1986, Walker and his wife founded the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation.

• In 1987, Sam Walton starts the Walton Family Foundation in Bentonville with $1,000.

• In 1991, James L. “Bud” Walton, brother of Sam and a Wal-Mart executive, gives $15 million for a new basketball arena at the UA.

• Circa 1991, Charles “Charlie” Baum, an early Walton partner and Wal-Mart investor, gives $1 million toward Walton Arena.



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