Walker Foundation Gives $25M to Arkansas Children's for Northwest Arkansas

Walker Foundation Gives $25M to Arkansas Children's for Northwest Arkansas
Arkansas Children's Northwest in Springdale. The pediatric care system is launching a major project to expand and modernize the campus. (Arkansas Children's)

The Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation Inc. of Fayetteville announced Friday that it is donating $25 million to Arkansas Children’s to improve children’s health care in northwest Arkansas, making it the largest gift in the pediatric health system’s history.

Arkansas Children’s also announced Friday that Arkansas Children’s Northwest in Springdale will be named the Pat Walker Campus.

Half of the foundation’s contribution will be used to expand the 233,000-SF Springdale hospital, including adding a new four-story wing.

The remaining $12.5 million will fund an endowment, according to a Friday news release from Arkansas Children’s.

Marcy Doderer, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s, told Arkansas Business on Friday that the endowment will help fund physician recruitment packages in the coming years.

“We need and intend to recruit over 30 new pediatric subspecialists to the northwest Arkansas community,” she said. “And we'll be able to use those monies to help make that an attractive move for them to this community.”

Arkansas Children’s also can also use the endowment for equipment or for other needs as it expands its services.


The hospital, which opened in 2018, will expand its footprint with a four-story addition that will connect to the current floors of the hospital. The project will add inpatient beds, operating rooms and an endoscopy suite. Plans also include adding outpatient clinic space to the adjacent Children’s Center for Health & Wellness, where patients have primary care appointments, the news release said.

The expansion’s primary focus areas are orthopedics, urology, gastroenterology and ear, nose and throat.

“These efforts will expand the acuity of services provided and the complexity of surgeries performed,” the news release said.

Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects and Cromwell Architects Engineers, both of Little Rock, are designing the project. The final plans are expected in fall. Nabholz Construction of Conway is the lead contractor. Construction is expected to start in the spring of 2024.

Walker Legacy

“I would just hope that stories like this can allow us to really express our gratitude and heartfelt thanks to the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation and to Mandy Macke, the executive director of that foundation,” Doderer said.

Macke announced the donation, the largest single donation in the foundation’s history, Friday evening during the 15th annual Gala of Hope at the Fayetteville Public Library.

Willard Walker was an executive at Walmart when the retailer went public in 1972, making a fortune as one of the Bentonville company's first shareholders. Over the years, he and his wife, Pat, gave millions to Arkansas organizations with charitable, religious, scientific, literary or educational goals.

The foundation, which they started in 1986, has lived on after its founders’ deaths, Willard in 2003 and Pat in 2016. Over the years, it has pledged millions of dollars to Arkansas Children’s, including an $8 million gift in 2018 for the construction of Arkansas Children’s Northwest.

Macke told Arkansas Business that Pat Walker was an advocate for children and families in Arkansas.

“Pat loved people but she specifically loved children,” Macke said. “And I think that the partnership with Arkansas Children's Hospital has been such a great fit because Pat wanted all kids to have access to everything. And to be honest, quality health care is the most important.”

She said she hopes the foundation’s gift will encourage other families, individuals and businesses to donate for the expansion.

In May, Arkansas Children’s revealed plans for a $318 million systemwide expansion that will add hundreds of employees, programs and construction of new facilities.

The system said the eight-year project, its largest ever, is focused on improving access, patient outcomes and the on-campus experiences at Arkansas Children's in Little Rock and its hospital in Springdale.

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