Wal-Mart made a number of Arkansans very rich, and that wealth has been manifested in billions of dollars worth of gifts to educational, medical and cultural institutions in the state.
Efforts to give away Wal-Mart-generated wealth started with relatively small steps. In 1973, for example, Wal-Mart gave $85,000 worth of company stock to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
During the next 39 years, the giving accelerated as the wealth grew and its owners began to consider their legacies. By 2012, Wal-Mart money stood behind at least five of the 25 largest nonprofit organizations in the state — $2.2 billion in assets — and a billion-dollar-plus art museum.
And according to the Foundation Center of New York, the Walton Family Foundation Inc., Arkansas’ largest nonprofit by asset size, is No. 50 on the center’s ranking of largest U.S. foundations by asset size but No. 2 (behind the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) when ranked by total giving.
Almost every institution of higher education in the state has benefited, but none more than the UA.
In 2007, the year that Sam Walton’s widow, Helen, died, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported: “Since 1998, the Walton family has contributed more than $359 million to the state’s flagship university through the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and private family gifts.”
That included the $300 million gift the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation announced in 2002. At the time, it was called the largest donation ever given to a public university. Ten years later, it is the 13th-largest gift ever to an institution of higher education, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
On March 14, 2003, the UA reported that it had received “the entire sum of $300 million that was committed to it by the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, as announced by Chancellor John A. White on April 11, 2002. The transfer of funds was made Wednesday, March 12, 2003, entirely in cash.
“As a result, the University endowment has increased from $214 million (as of June 30, 2002) to more than $500 million.”
Entire multibillion-dollar health care, educational and athletic facilities and at least one college might not exist in Arkansas without wealth created by Wal-Mart.
And in the last seven years, a cultural institution praised by the likes of The Economist and The New York Times has arisen in a corner of the Ozarks because of one woman’s desire to use her Wal-Mart money to serve her love of American art and history.
‘As Much Benefit as Possible’
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.
• Also in about 1991, Baum gives $1 million-plus for a new baseball stadium at the UA, as do Pat and Willard Walker. Their gifts to what would become Baum Stadium eventually total more than $4 million.
• In 1994 and 1995, Sam and Helen Walton’s only daughter, Alice, and her family help raise $15 million to begin work on the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport in Highfill. The Walton family pledges the purchase of $5 million in bonds. Then-President Bill Clinton helps dedicate the $109 million, 2,185-acre airport when it opens in 1998. The airport names its terminal the Alice L. Walton Terminal Building. She is described as essential to the creation of the airport.
• In February 1996, Helen Walton contributes $4 million to UA’s College of Business, which creates the Alice L. Walton Chair in Finance.
• In December 1997, Helen Walton donates $2 million to endow a child-care center at the Harvey & Bernice Jones Center for Families in Springdale.
• In 1998, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation announces a $50 million gift to UA’s College of Business Administration, at that time the largest gift ever to a public business college in the U.S. The college is later renamed the Sam M. Walton College of Business.
That same year, the foundation, at Helen Walton’s behest, gives $39.5 million to the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville, immediately doubling that school’s endowment.
• In April 1999, the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation gives $4 million to John Brown University in Siloam Springs for a community center and classrooms. The center is to house the Donald G. Soderquist Center for Business Leadership & Ethics, named for Wal-Mart’s vice chairman and chief operating officer, who is chairman of JBU’s board of trustees.
• In May 1999, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation also gives $4 million for the Soderquist Center.
• In June 1999, Pauline Whitaker of Rogers gives $1 million to Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, her fourth donation to the school for a total of $1.7 million at the time. Whitaker is the widow of Don Whitaker, hired in 1962 to run the first Wal-Mart store in Rogers.
• In 1999, the Windgate Charitable Foundation of Siloam Springs gives John Brown University about $2 million. The foundation was endowed in 1993, using a gift of Wal-Mart stock from Dorothea Hutcheson of Fort Smith. Hutcheson is the mother of Bill Hutcheson Jr., whose Hutcheson Shoe Co. of Fort Smith was bought out by Wal-Mart in 1978. Bill Hutcheson Jr. became a vice president of Wal-Mart.
• In June 2000, retired Wal-Mart President Ferold Arend and his wife, Jane, give $5 million to build what would become the Arend Arts Center at Bentonville High School. Soon after, Jack Shewmaker, a member of the Wal-Mart board of directors and former chief financial officer, contributes $1 million for a sound system and lights.
• In October 2000, the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation gives $7 million to the University of the Ozarks in Clarksville for a building to house teachers’ education and communications programs.
• In July 2001, the Walker foundation gives $3 million for a cardiovascular center at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville.
• In August 2001, the Walker foundation gives $3 million to the UA for a new health center.
• In 2001, the Walkers donate $1.1 million to UAMS to endow a chair in orthopedic surgery.
• In 2001, Wal-Mart employees donate $1 million to build a $4.6 million training center at Northwest Arkansas Community College. Shewmaker and his family also pledge $1 million to the center, named the Shewmaker Center for Workforce Technologies.
• In 2001, the Walton Family Foundation gives $1.3 million to expand the Rogers Activity Center.
• In 2001, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation, founded in 1987, donates $1.4 million to the Arkansas Community Foundation in Little Rock.
• In April 2002, the Walton Family Charitable Support Foundation pledges a $300 million challenge gift to the University of Arkansas. The money allows the university to establish an Honors College and more than doubles the school’s endowment.
• In May 2002, the Walkers pledge $6 million to the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. UAMS announces that it will rename the Arkansas Center for Eye Research within the institute the Pat & Willard Walker Eye Research Center.
• In April 2003, two months after Willard Walker’s death, the Walker family donates $8 million for a graduate school building at the UA’s business college. The building will become the Willard J. Walker Hall.
• In 2003, the Walton Family Foundation gives $2 million to the William J. Clinton Foundation.
• In April 2004, the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation announces a $21.5 million donation to UAMS to go toward its eye institute, Alzheimer’s disease research and the school’s psychiatry program. Much of the money, $15 million, will pay for a five-floor expansion of the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute. The expansion will be called the Pat Walker Tower.
• In April 2004, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announces a gift of $5 million, its largest contribution ever to a hospital, to a fundraising campaign by Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas to build a new medical campus in Rogers.
• In June 2004, H. Lee Scott, at that time president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, and his wife, Linda, give $1.25 million to Mercy Health System for the new campus.
• In December 2004, Don Soderquist and his wife, JoAnn, donate $1 million to Mercy Health System.
• In 2004, the Walker foundation gives $2 million to build the Circle of Life Hospice & Palliative Care Complex at Har-Ber Meadows in Springdale. It becomes the Willard & Pat Walker Family Center.
• In May 2005, Alice Walton pays an estimated $35 million for Asher B. Durand’s painting “Kindred Spirits,” and the Walton Family Foundation announces that the piece will be displayed in an art museum planned for Bentonville. A few weeks later, Walton officially announces plans for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, described as a $50 million project projected to open in 2009. The value of the building and its artwork eventually soar past the $1.2 billion mark and Crystal Bridges opens in November 2011.
• In 2005, the Walton Family Foundation donates $19 million to Crystal Bridges, $8.4 million to the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation America of Bentonville, a nonprofit that works for school choice and $1 million to the Clinton Foundation.
• On Sept. 16, 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports that Wal-Mart Stores so far had made $17 million in cash donations to victims of one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. Meanwhile, the Walton Family Foundation had made $15 million in cash contributions, while customers of Wal-Mart had given $6.5 million. (See story, Page 21.)
• In 2006 alone, the Walton Family Foundation donates $11.9 million to the University of the Ozarks, $11.8 million to John Brown University and $11.6 million to Harding University to fund the Walton International Scholarship Program for students from Latin America. (See story, Page 30.) The foundation also gives$10 million to Crystal Bridges; $8 million to the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund; $6.9 million to the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation America; $6 million to Camp War Eagle in Benton County; $1.8 million to the Arkansas Department of Education; and $1.1 million to the Fayetteville Public Education Foundation.
• In 2006 and 2007, the Wal-Mart Foundation gives a total of $8 million to Northwest Arkansas Community College. In 2007, Jack Shewmaker and family give $2 million to NWACC.
• In 2007, the Walton Family Foundation gives $60 million to Crystal Bridges.
• In 2008, the Walton Family Foundation contributes $1.25 million to the Harvey & Bernice Jones Center for Families.
• In 2009, the Walton Family Foundation donates $1.5 million to the UCA Foundation.
• In 2010, the Walton Family Foundation gives $10.9 million to the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas and almost $15 million to Southern Bancorp of Arkadelphia, a rural development bank.
• In 2010, the Walton Family Foundation gives more than $1.2 billion to Crystal Bridges.
• In 2011, the Wal-Mart Foundation gives Crystal Bridges $20 million to make admission free for all visitors.
• In 2011, Crystal Bridges announces a $10 million gift from the Willard & Pat Walker Foundation to pay for visits to the museum by schoolchildren.
• In 2012, the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation gives $1.5 million for a student education center at the UAMS’ Northwest Arkansas campus. It brings to at least $48 million in donations that the Walkers have given to UAMS.