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Enter Rockefeller - and a new Arkansas 

He showed us how to give.

Arkansas in 1953 was a sleepy farming state that didn't have a whole lot going for it except its scenery, the individual talents of its people, and Mississippi. It wasn't the South and it wasn't the West and most of the folks in charge were family, and all were Democrats. If people got stirred to action, it was usually about race, and not in a good way. But Arkansas had its loyal population, and within a few months after his arrival in June, a real live Rockefeller was one of them. This husky, 6-foot-3 man from a larger-than-life family swapped street shoes for cowboy boots and built a new life - for himself, and everybody around him - from atop Petit Jean Mountain. Winthrop Rockefeller's impact was instant, igniting real change in Arkansas, first in its quality of life, and eventually in its politics. By the end of 1953, this resident of only six months had given Arkansas Baptist Hospital $52,625, Little Rock Junior College $26,250, Arkansas A & M $26,312.50 and Dunbar Junior College $25,625 - for a total that translates to nearly $1 million in today's dollars. Those gifts, and the others he gave in 1953, signaled the problems he wanted to tackle - education, racial equality and health. By the time Rockefeller died in 1973, he'd given $20 million (at least $150 million in today's dollars) to Arkansas concerns - and those were just the gifts he reported on his tax returns. The Rockwin Fund he created in 1956 for educational endeavors became in 1976 the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, which has invested millions in Arkansas educational and economic causes and which in turn provided seed money for the Arkansas Community Foundation. The Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust, created by Rockefeller's estate, supports the Foundation, Winrock International (a $74 million non-profit dedicated to agricultural development), and other Arkansas interests, including Philander Smith College, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Nature Conservancy of Arkansas and the Arkansas Aviation Historical Society. In 1962, Rockefeller and his wife, Jeannette, helped the Junior League transform the a small repository of copies of paintings in an old WPA building in MacArthur Park into the $1 million Arkansas Arts Center theater, gallery and classroom complex. He built a library and a clinic in Perryville, a model public school in Morrilton and made significant gifts to the Urban League of Arkansas, the University of Arkansas and what was then called the Arkansas Publicity and Parks Commission. His political slogan was "Arkansas Is Worth Paying For," and he's still investing, through his charitable funds and businesses sparked by what trust officer Marion Burton described as a "willingness to take risks." Most importantly, Rockefeller - or WR, as he came to be known - helped Arkansas set its sights higher. It wasn't just dollars he gave: It was the idea that Arkansas could come out of the dark ages, if the whole state - particularly those of means - would work to make it happen. Rockefeller's political impact was tremendous. He was the Democrat-backed Republican who attracted new jobs and industry, who ended the Democratic machine's grip on Arkansas - for a time, and who at his own expense brought in men with expertise to head up governmental agencies. That story has been told. Now his personal philanthropy, demanded of the grandchildren of oil tycoon John D. Sr., is the subject of a book by former newspaperman and WR's director of public relations John L. Ward of Conway. Ward, whose book "Winthrop Rockefeller: Philanthropist, A Life of Change" comes out this week, said Rockefeller "recognized there was no pattern for philanthropy in Arkansas." Ward said WR became "deliberately visible" in his giving, trying to "show the way." There were, of course, charities and service organizations in Arkansas before Rockefeller - some he gave to in 1953 include the Arkansas Association for the Crippled, the Arkansas Tuberculosis Association, the Boys Club, the Junior League of Little Rock and the Lions Club. A family foundation still operating today, the Trotter Foundation in Pine Bluff, had already been established, in 1950, to aid Christian charities; the Jewish Federation had been helping families in need since 1902. But Rockefeller had lots to give, and a commitment to giving. "To whom much is given, much is expected" was the family saying, and Rockefeller was well established as a philanthropist before he came to the "Land of Opportunity." He'd helped organize the Greater New York Fund and chaired the National Urban League Service Fund, served on the boards of hospitals, was a steady giver to his prep school and Yale. After his move to Arkansas - at the suggestion of Army friend Frank Newell of Little Rock, who knew that the recently divorced Rockefeller, 41, needed a change of scenery - WR threw himself into the creation of Winrock Farms cattle breeding operation atop Petit Jean, the inspiration for today's Winrock International. Burton, Rockefeller's pilot and aviation manager, said he created the farm - not a ranch, not a hobby - to demonstrate to his new neighbors (and maybe his brothers) how to think big. While Rockefeller was easing into his new digs, the national press was all agog. The Saturday Evening Post in 1956 called WR "the hillbilly Rockefeller" and noted his accomplishments as head of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, to which Gov. Orval Faubus had appointed him. At AIDC, Rockefeller got the state involved in its own progress, raising $113,000 from Arkansas businessmen for the agency adding 10,000 new jobs in the first year. "What you do here," the Post quoted Rockefeller, "shows up in a hurry. You can see the results." In 1966, when Rockefeller was elected governor, Time Magazine put him on the cover and called its story "The Transformation of Arkansas." It noted the racism that had revealed itself in the Central High crisis and in the campaigning of Rockefeller's opponent, Jim Johnson. Johnson wouldn't even shake hands with black folks; supporters in the Democratic Party put out flyers that showed Rockefeller partying at a Harlem nightclub. Rockefeller soundly beat Johnson, thanks to the black vote. "For its economic and social transformation, Arkansas owes much to a transplanted Yankee whose surname - connoting vast wealth, liberal Republicanism and cosmopolitan interests - once seemed as alien to the state as fine champagne," the magazine wrote. In a state ruled by cronyism, marred by administration scandals, Rockefeller was the "first person the people of Arkansas came into contact with who were not trying to take from them, but to give to them," biographer Ward said. What was in it for WR? "Win found himself in Arkansas," his brother David told Time. "It was just what he wanted and needed." "Rockefeller was a soft touch," Ward recalled, "if you could get through his phalanx of aides." "I talked to him a lot of times about being too soft. 'You don't know how to say no,' " he'd tell him. "If you were on a crutch … well, he was an easy mark." The story that he gave bicycles to any kid who asked? "B.S.," Ward said. "He'd give cash." Rockefeller proved to be ahead of his time in some areas, off the mark in others. The model elementary school he poured $1.2 million into in Morrilton, to provide an expanded curriculum and higher teacher pay - and which the school board almost rejected because he insisted that it be integrated - failed to be duplicated in other districts. A program he created as governor to teach people to build furniture flopped - people wanted to earn the money to buy things, not the skills to make them. The once bustling Perry County clinic, which employs only one doctor today, succumbed because of access to superior health facilities nearby. But the successes far outweigh the misfires. Dr. Sybil Hampton, the director of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, said the 50 years since Rockefeller first came to Arkansas have brought a cascade of good things. There's the Arts Center. Also its Artmobile (which Rockefeller told Col. T.H. Barton he'd name the "Bartmobile" if he'd fund it. Barton, "tighter than the bark on a tree," Ward said, gave $5,000.) For example, there's also the Arkansas Capital Corp., nee First Arkansas Development Finance Corporation. Born at a barbecue atop Petit Jean attended by political and financial leaders, the non-profit economic development company has provided loans of more than $223 million since 1957. Today, the corporation's loans combined with other financial resources represent an investment of $505 million in Arkansas. The Arkansas Community Foundation, which today oversees funds worth more than $56 million and whose funds have awarded grants worth $35 million to date, was founded in 1976 with a $268,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. "We call it one of the best investments" that grew out of Rockefeller giving, president and CEO Pat Lile said. Lile went to Hendrix College in the 1950s thanks to a $500 a year scholarship from the Arkansas Opportunities Fund Rockefeller endowed to keep promising students in Arkansas. "Little did I know that my professional career would actually have a connection to his legacy." That legacy, at the Community Foundation, "is that you don't have to be a Rockefeller to be a philanthropist." Rockefeller was "a person who was constantly scanning and thinking and he had a vision, of the improvement of the quality of life in Arkansas." He brought diversity to state government, putting William L. "Sonny" Walker in charge of the Office of Economic Opportunity and appointing blacks to state boards and commissions. Dr. When Martin Luther King was assassinated, Rockefeller stood with mourning blacks in a ceremony on the steps of the State Capitol, the only such ceremony in the Southern states. "There are people who think about philanthropy as money, but it has to do with ideas," Hampton said. "Using human and financial resources to do things in a way that are more efficient, more effective and perhaps cutting edge … that's a visionary act, not pecuniary. Money without vision can create mischief." Since its founding 29 years ago, the Rockefeller Foundation has awarded $77 million in grants. The Foundation has issued a number of studies examining the state's tax system, including its "Tax Options for Arkansas: Funding Education After the Lakeview Case." It funded a videotaped teachers' guide on the race riots of Elaine, a photo-documentary on the elderly in the Ozarks, and a study on entrepreneurial growth. In 2003, the Foundation gave $1.5 million to 22 Arkansas nonprofits, money that Rockefeller would have surely felt was well spent, money that addresses history, the economy and programs for children. Rockefeller money will help collect artifacts and oral histories on the historic black business district on Ninth Street in Little Rock; fund an exhibit on the internment of Japanese Americans in Arkansas during World War II; help the Central Library System create an on-line "Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture." It will provide business planning grants to small nonprofits and seed money for a new program of the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority. "In a lifetime, in a day, each one of us can only do so much," Hampton said. But the gifts we give "act as catalysts for change."
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