The charitable foundation for a popular former Arkansas governor has provided big money to help people learn about the history of Arkansas.
The Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust has gifted $2.25 million to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture to preserve and educate the public about the history of Arkansas, including the notable contributions of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller.The gift, announced Sept. 10 at UA Little Rock Downtown, will create the Winthrop Rockefeller Archival Fund, a quasi-endowment. It is the sixth largest cash gift in UA Little Rock’s history. Funds will be used to preserve, house, and catalog historical items from the Rockefeller Collection and to support topics and activities related to the center’s mission.
“Almost a half a century ago, Arkansas lost a great leader, and I lost a friend with the passing of Winthrop Rockefeller,” said Marion Burton, executive trustee of the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. “The trust that bears his name was established at the time of his death and has carried on his vision for the state.
“The Charitable Trust and the UA Little Rock center have been good partners in bringing the Arkansas story to the community. The Trustees have always carefully considered the impact of its donations, and this gift was no exception. The Charitable Trust recognizes the strengths and reputation of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture and is pleased to make this further commitment to their work.”
The collection is comprised of papers, memorabilia, and historic records related to Gov. Rockefeller, Arkansas’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and celebrated philanthropist. The Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust donated the collection to the center in 1980. The Rockefeller Collection, which was instrumental in establishing UA Little Rock’s archives program, represents the center’s largest collection with more than 2,000 boxes.
The gift will allow the center to create educational activities, research initiatives, and events associated with the Rockefeller Collection and other collections housed in the center.
“I want to thank Will Rockefeller and his family for their support for the Center for Arkansas History and Culture and the state,” said Deborah Baldwin, director of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture and associate provost for collections and archives. “We hope that the family will continue to see the center as the place to secure the Arkansas Rockefeller legacy. We are pleased that the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust has confidence in our vision and execution of the work.”
Baldwin said plans for the center include increasing its archives to include collections of underrepresented groups that will complement its collection of records related to state leaders. The center will also increase efforts to digitize collections housed in the archive, making this historic information more accessible to the public.
“Our archival collections can become a more complete reflection of the state’s people and organizations,” Baldwin said. “Scholars can better explore the ‘why’ questions of history with more complete information. This gift will make a difference. Positive change is a hallmark of Winthrop Rockefeller’s work. Behind all of these initiatives is our goal to inspire people to engage with Arkansas history and the future it maps for us.”
Additionally, the center will offer more educational opportunities for students by granting awards to conduct research and providing experiential learning opportunities.
“The Department of History views this remarkable gift as a watershed moment in its efforts to prepare students for professional careers through experiential education,” said Jess Porter, chair of the UA Little Rock Department of History. “The Center for Arkansas History and Culture has long been an indispensable partner of our graduate program in Public History. Under the leadership of Dr. Baldwin, the center has trained a generation of graduate students who have gone on to become leaders in the humanities in central Arkansas and beyond.”
Porter added that the center’s “hands-on experiences and cutting-edge technologies for undergraduates offer an applied dimension of archival education that is unparalleled in Arkansas.”
The Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust was created by Gov. Rockefeller in 1972 to support charitable organizations. Rockefeller moved to Arkansas in 1953 where he established Winrock Enterprises and Winrock Farms, chaired the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission, and initiated many philanthropic projects. Rockefeller's progressive and philanthropic vision is reflected in the papers he left behind and remains alive through the work of organizations he founded and inspired.
“Governor Rockefeller believed that if others knew more about his adopted state, they would value it as much as he did,” said Burton. “They would then want to visit and invest in the place he chose as home.”
The UA Little Rock center has created special digital archive projects with the assistance of the Charitable Trust for educational programs for teachers and others around the state.