By Glenda Graves | Portrait photo by Keith Branch
Making Philanthropy a Career
Mandy Macke is a Northwest Arkansas leader in every respect. She moved to Fayetteville with her family when she was just a few months old and has lived there ever since. She works as the executive director and vice chairman of the board for the Willard & Pat Walker Charitable Foundation, Inc. The purpose of the foundation is to support charitable, religious, scientific, literary and educational endeavors.
Willard and Pat Walker moved in the 1940s to Springdale, where Willard would later manage one of the first Walmart stores. Profits made from stock investments in Walmart funded the Walker Foundation, which was formed in 1986. By 2003, the Walker Foundation had solidified itself as a philanthropic leader in Northwest Arkansas.
In just over three decades, the Walker Foundation had donated more than $250 million to nonprofit organizations throughout Arkansas and the surrounding region. The University of Arkansas is a primary focus of giving for the Walker Foundation, with a significant contribution supporting the construction of the Pat Walker Health Center, which opened on campus in 2004. The names of Willard and Pat Walker are used throughout Northwest Arkansas to honor their legacy of giving, and Mandy Macke has been a huge part of making sure that legacy continues.
Mandy was the middle child sandwiched between two brothers — each child only a year apart. “My mother, Patty, is the best,” Mandy said. “She has always put others before herself. She is quiet — much less talkative than me — and always so nice. My mom worked at Youth Bridge when I was young, and although she was an accountant, we were always exposed to fundraising. I would guess that to be the ‘why’ behind my interest in philanthropy. I specifically remember collecting Toys for Tots as a child and supporting Salvation Army.”
Mandy Macke with Danyelle Musselman, Reynelda Robinson and Jennifer Yurachek at the 2023 Gala of Hope benefiting Arkansas Children’s Northwest on Aug. 3 at the Fayetteville Public Library
Mandy Macke with Sydney Johnson and 2019 Champion Child Tori Johnson at a Christian Louboutin pop-up shop benefiting Arkansas Children’s Northwest
Mandy Macke with Norm and Caroline Debriyn, Sarah DuPrez and Father Jason Sharbaugh at the American Cancer Society’s 2021 Suits & Sneakers Gala at Fayetteville Town Center on Oct. 15
Mandy said it has been a full-circle experience to see her former elementary school teacher, Doris Hughey, volunteering at Washington Regional and to volunteer alongside her childhood neighbor, Larry Slamons, at M&N Augustine Foundation. “I think growing up in Fayetteville, we saw the culture of philanthropy on a daily basis — though on a smaller scale than the world of philanthropy I am surrounded by today — whether that was our parents, teachers or neighbors volunteering around us with school activities, church activities or other groups.”
After high school, Mandy attended the University of Arkansas where she received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a Juris Doctor degree. “I knew from day one that I didn’t want to actually be a lawyer,” she said, “but I knew it would offer me a lot of opportunities.”
In 1996, during her freshman year of college, Mandy tried out for the Arkansas Diamond Dolls, who assist the Razorback Baseball program. She had done something similar in high school and thought it would be a fun way to be involved. Little did she know it would be the catalyst for her future career. “The Diamond Dolls shared a suite with the Walker family at the time,” she said. “That was how I met Willard and Pat Walker.”
While in law school, Mandy worked with the Diamond Dolls as an assistant coordinator. She talked with the Walkers about a possible opportunity during her last year of law school and took the job in December 2002, working part time until she graduated in May 2003. “I have never looked back,” she said. “I can’t believe sometimes that I’ve been here for 21 years. But having Pat as a mentor for what philanthropy is has changed my whole perspective on what it means to have a culture of philanthropy.”
Mandy had no idea she would make a career out of philanthropy. “I have seen this area change so much over my lifetime,” she said. “I feel the changes, and I know how we need to improve. I eat, sleep and drink our area nonprofits. I just believe in what our community is growing toward, and I’m inspired daily by the people of Northwest Arkansas who truly have a desire to help one another.”
It’s easy to see the love and respect Mandy has for Pat, who passed in 2016, when she speaks of the lessons learned from her. Pat didn’t grow up with much, having a single mother who worked three jobs to pay for her education. “I constantly think about what Pat would do now,” Mandy said. “Of course, I have the history of their giving and the groundwork that I still use today, but there are so many new organizations that we didn’t have then. So, I think about how they would look at things now when we are making decisions on giving.
“Just watching Pat’s love of children and her love of making Springdale and the entire area a better place over the years was an honor. They could have chosen to do a lot of things with their money, but it was important for them to share their good fortune with their community — basic needs, the arts, anything that helps people reach their full potential in life. And being able to share that story after their passing is super special to me.”
Pat’s love of children led to a strong connection with Arkansas Children’s. The history of giving to Arkansas Children’s began with Pat more than 20 years ago and has included major investments in programs and services over the years, including the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, the ACH South Wing expansion and a leadership gift of $8 million to the construction of Arkansas Children’s Northwest.
Mandy serves on the Arkansas Children’s Foundation Board of Directors and Gala of Hope, formerly Color of Hope, volunteer committee. In 2019, Mandy chaired the annual gala and spearheaded efforts to raise a historic $2.1 million as well as established the now-annual Christian Louboutin pop-up shop as part of the flagship event. And this past August at the 15th annual Gala of Hope, a historic $25 million gift from the Walker Foundation was announced.
“The Walker Foundation was an early investor in Arkansas Children’s Northwest, and with the most recent expansion news, it was the perfect time to make our largest single gift to date. Twelve-point-five million will support expansion efforts at Arkansas Children’s Northwest, and the remaining $12.5 million will go toward endowment, ensuring that the region’s children will have expert pediatric care close to home for generations to come. I know Pat would be so proud.”
Recently there has been a need for more support for both local hospice care locations — Circle of Life and the Willard Walker Hospice Home. “As our community grows, the demand grows, and I’m very passionate about the support we give to hospice,” Mandy said. “It’s a compassionate need that will never go away.”
Another incredibly important puzzle piece for the Northwest Arkansas community and the Walker Foundation is Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Mandy said the relationship initially stemmed from the school visit endowment created by Pat and has continued with an annual exhibition sponsorship. Currently, the foundation is sponsoring the Annie Leibovitz exhibition running through Jan. 29, 2024, and the Listening Forest exhibition running through the winter.
Mandy Macke with her mom, Patty, and her brother, Jonnie, at Macke’s Bases Loaded Landing during an Arkansas Baseball regional game in Baum Walker Stadium on June 2
Mandy Macke and Fred Scarborough, executive vice president of Arkansas Children’s, at the Miracle Ball at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock in December 2022
Other focuses for Mandy and the Walker Foundation are the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish, United Way of Northwest Arkansas and the Imagination Library, Hope Cancer Resources, American Cancer Society’s Suits & Sneakers Gala, the city of Springdale and the Luther George Park project, among many others.
With November designated as National Philanthropy Month, it is the perfect time to recognize those who are doing this work on a daily basis in the community. Mandy Macke is certainly one of those people. She had no idea that her career would be devoted to philanthropic giving. She said she didn’t even know that was an option. But the career thankfully chose her, and she has excelled in making sound decisions for giving to the community.
“I don’t know that the average person really knows how to give. People should just really examine what they’re passionate about,” Mandy said. “We should want to make Northwest Arkansas a better place for everyone, and there are so many opportunities for that that people aren’t aware of. Just volunteer one day. It may seem insignificant, but you will see a return on that investment. Once you start to give your time and your heart and your money, it’s a domino effect. A dollar here, a dollar there… everything adds up. It takes a village.”