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I just wanted to create a place where we can give thanks to all the people, philanthropists and corporations that have generously contributed to much of what makes Northwest Arkansas such a great place to live. It may not seem like much but by just giving thanks we may learn to better appreciate the quality of life we have and the increased quality of life that is to come.

I want to start by giving a kind of history of philanthropic activities that have happened in the past decade and beyond. It's by no means a complete list, but I'd like to thank each of these people, philanthropists and corporations for their generosity:

[*]1986: Sam Walton made a large donation to get the Walton Arts Center constructed. Mr. Sam's donation was used for the building of an auditorium that would accommodate major touring shows, other performing arts opportunities and the Wal-Mart shareholder's meeting. Sam Walton encouraged the community to get a lot of different people involved in the project and over $7 Million was raised from the private sector allowing the Walton Arts Center to open, debt free, on April 26, 1992.

[*]1998: Bernice Jones, deceased widow of Jones Truck Line founder Harvey Jones, donated Millions and established a fund, appointed a board and approved the renovation of the Jones Truck Line terminal into a modern, multi-faceted public recreation and education facility and a subsequent broad scope program. Most often you will see children at the Jones Center for Families... "Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight" must be what Bernice Jones had in mind when she made Jones Center available and free to all. She not only funded its beginning, she has funded its future operations, too.

[*]1998: Don Tyson donated $3 Million towards construction of the $6.3 Million state-of-the-art Randal Tyson Track Center at the University of Arkansas. The Randal Tyson Track Center continues the university's tradition of building some of the finest sports arenas in the nation. The facility has hosted major track and field events, including the 2000, and 2001 NCAA National Indoor Championships.

[*]1998: The Walton family donated $50 Million to the Sam M. Walton Business College at the University of Arkansas, the flagship business school of the state of Arkansas and one of the top 30 of its kind in the country. The Sam M. Walton College awarded 760 Bachelor's, MBA, Specialized Master's and Doctoral Degrees in 2003.

[*]1998: CommunityCare Foundation, Inc. was founded with funds from the sale of Northwest Medical Center in Springdale and Bates Medical Center in Bentonville. The Foundation operates as a supporting organization to the Northwest Arkansas Community Foundation and its mission is to enrich the quality of life in this area. A total of $791,755 would be invested in the project during the first year. The two elementary schools shared $693,983 to assist in implementing strategies to have all children perform at grade level. In addition, a grant of $53,172 went to Ozark Guidance to support dedicated social work staff for each school.

[*]1999: Lawrence H. Schmieding donated $13.5 Million to build the Schmieding Center for Senior Health and Education at Springdale. The center is a regional satellite of the Donald W. Reynolds Center on Aging at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences, UAMS. The center offers patient care as well as paraprofessional training for home health caregivers. The center is a partner of the Northwest Arkansas Area Health Education Center, part of the UAMS network of rural programs, and Northwest Health System in Springdale.

[*]2002: The Walton family donated $300 Million through their Walton Family Foundation to the University of Arkansas. They did not ask for any naming rights and they specified that the money could be used ONLY for academic purposes, including a new library and technology support. No money would go toward other buildings or infrastructure. The gift is the largest ever given to a public university.

[*]2003: The Willard and Pat Walker Charitable Foundation pledged $8 million to the University of Arkansas to construct the Willard J. Walker Graduate Business Building of the Sam M. Walton Business College. The building will be named for the late Willard Walker, in honor of his success in retail management as an exceptional business leader and his contribution to the creation and development of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. Willard J. Walker was the first manager of Sam Walton's Five and Dime.

[*]2004: J.B. and Johnelle Hunt made a $5 million donation to Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas' capital campaign, Building World-class Healthcare, the Northwest Arkansas Way.

[*]2004: Wal-Mart, Inc. donated $5 Million to the Mercy Health System of Northwest Arkansas

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That's a pretty good list. The only other things that I can mainly think to mention is that the Waltons, I don't really know which ones precisely, gave some funding to provide an endowment for the Walton Arts Center to help bring performances that might not otherwise come. I don't have specific numbers but Bud Walton gave a considerable amount to Bud Walton Arena. Also the David W Reynolds Foundation gave a considerable amount to the expansion of Razorback Stadium.

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Thank you Wal-Mart and Sam's Club!

The Wal-Mart and Sam's Club Foundation will give $5.53 million to local prekindergarten programs in three local school districts. Bentonville, Rogers and Springdale school districts will receive the money, but the details have only been made public for Bentonville. Those details are eye-popping.

According to Bentonville school officials, that district's $2.18 million share of the Wal-Mart foundation gift will increase prekindergarten program capacity from 90 students to nearly 400. That's about 300 more students who will start kindergarten next year in a better position to learn and excel. In addition, 30 scholarships for the program will be made available for families unable to afford it.

These gifts from the Wal-Mart Foundation mark important progress in helping children succeed when they get to school. This is an investment that will make a tangible difference in the lives of local children and the life of our community.

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