Walker Foundation gives $25 million to Arkansas Children’s Northwest, the largest grant in the hospital’s history

Arkansas Children's Northwest sign.

SPRINGDALE — Arkansas Children’s Northwest will receive $25 million from the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation of Fayetteville, the largest single charitable donation in the hospital’s history according to Arkansas Children’s president.

Half the money will go toward the addition of a new wing and other expansions at the Arkansas Children’s Northwest campus. This hospital in Springdale will be renamed the Pat Walker Campus, Arkansas Children’s President and Chief Executive Officer Marcy Doderer announced. The remaining $12.5 million from the contribution will go into an endowment to also benefit the Springdale hospital, which opened in 2018. The original hospital is in Little Rock, 198 miles away by highway.

The gift is also the largest single donation the Walker Foundation has ever granted, Mandy Macke, charity executive director, said in a telephone interview Friday. Macke announced the gift during the 15th annual Gala of Hope at the Fayetteville Public Library.

“Pat played such an integral role in making sure the children of Arkansas have every advantage they can have,” Macke said. “That includes quality health care close to home. Our involvement in Arkansas Children’s Northwest was a part of Pat’s plan.” Mrs. Walker passed away in 2016, her husband in 2003.

“Pat was very passionate about helping children, and I know it would have brought her great joy to have seen Arkansas Children’s Northwest come to fruition. To know her name will soon adorn the campus is enough to bring tears to my eyes,” Macke said. The foundation decided to grant the contribution, in part, to pay tribute to Mrs. Walker’s legacy, Macke said.

Arkansas Children’s announced expansion plans at both hospitals in May. The hospitals are expanding to attract more highly specialized services and providers, Doderer said. The expansion will also help keep up with population growth in Northwest Arkansas, she said. An estimated 220,000 children live in the 11 counties in Arkansas served by the Northwest campus with additional children coming there from western Oklahoma and southern Missouri, she said.

Macke also cited attracting more specialists to Northwest Arkansas as a major reason for the grant. “We want to attract specialists from Boston and Philadelphia and, with them, other business from there by being able to say they can get first-class health care for their kids here,” she said.

The donation does not exhaust the foundation’s resources nor will it put a damper on other contributions from the community to the Northwest Campus, Macke said. “This is not a sunset gift,” she said. Both she and Doderer said they expect the expansion to attract more community support for the hospital.

“We always knew we would be growing,” Doderer said. The Northwest campus was built with an eye to further expansion, she said.

“One unique aspect of care in Northwest Arkansas is how diverse the population has become,” Doderer said. For instance, the Northwest campus has signage and interpreters for the Marshallese language. The Springdale hospital also serves the region’s large Spanish-speaking population, she said.

The four-story addition at the Northwestern campus will connect to the current floors of the hospital while adding inpatient beds, operating rooms and a new endoscopy suite. Endoscopy looks inside the body, for instance using an instrument through the nose or mouth to examine the upper digestive or respiratory tract. The plan also calls for additional outpatient clinic space in the adjacent Children’s Center for Health & Wellness, where patients currently attend primary care appointments. The expansion’s primary focus areas are orthopedics, urology, gastroenterology, and ear, nose and throat.

Annual earnings from the new endowment will go to help Arkansas Children’s Northwest recruit highly qualified providers and meet other long-term needs, including purchases such as specialized state-of-the-art equipment. Such equipment will not only help children at the hospital but will help recruit top talent for providers, Doderer said.

“Pat Walker was a founding matriarch of Northwest Arkansas, and she wanted the very best for our children,” said Fred Scarborough, executive vice president and chief development officer for Arkansas Children’s.

Willard and Pat Walker settled in Springdale where Willard Walker became the manager of Walton’s Five and Dime Store in Fayetteville, a predecessor to Walmart Stores Inc., in 1959. The Walkers became major, early stockholders in Walmart. The couple set up their charitable foundation in 1986 and were long-time patrons of Arkansas Children’s Hospital. The Walker foundation gift of $8 million in 2018 helped construction of the Northwest campus.