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Philanthropy: Huntsmans win fame for generosity

By Bob Bernick Jr. and Jerry D. Spangler
Deseret Morning News

Published: Friday, Jan. 16 2004 10:30 p.m. MST

The Jon and Karen Huntsman Foundation — the family's main donation organ with public filings — as of the last reporting period had $44 million in assets and had dispensed $9.9 million over the past year. Huntsman Sr. confirmed those numbers but added that while that foundation will be the main vehicle for huge grants given in the future, in the past much of the giving "came out of my back pocket" — with limited public disclosure required.

In some cases, some of the giving is public, others private, even to the same organization. For example, Jon and Karen Huntsman together have personally given the University of Utah more than $3 million, reports U. spokesman Remi Barron. The Huntsmans' foundation has given $4.6 million to the U. But those totals don't include Huntsman corporate giving, which is not public, Barron said.

The foundation is a 501c3 nonprofit entity, and as such, has limitations, said Huntsman Sr. There are other restrictions that take "away some of the fun" that comes from just writing a check at the spur of the moment, says Huntsman Sr.

Just one such case: In May 2000, Huntsman Sr. was invited to give the main commencement speech at Weber State University. Huntsman says he had a talk prepared. "But I just put the speech down. I asked the graduates to stand and repeat after me the quote: 'No exercise is better for the human heart than reaching down and lifting another up.' "

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He then promised a hundred $10,000 scholarships for WSU and sat down. "It was all over pretty quickly," he recalls.

While WSU officials were surprised, other groups have come to rely on the Huntsmans' giving year after year.

Over the past decade, the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera have received more than $1.6 million from the Huntsmans, says Glenn Lanham, director of development for the symphony and opera.

Each year the Huntsmans sponsor one or more symphony and opera performances at around $25,000 each. In addition, the family is a major sponsor of the Deer Valley summer symphony concerts, where the Huntsmans have a home. That series sponsorship comes in at between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.

"The groups like the Huntsmans, who give year after year not only sponsoring performances but giving to our endowment as well, provide a firm foundation for us to move forward," said Lanham, who previously worked for the Huntsman Cancer Institute. "It gives us stability, especially in hard times."

The symphony, for example, faced buckets of red ink just a few years ago. When pressed to give more to bail out the organization, Huntsman Sr. reportedly said he would continue to give after the symphony's board of directors got the group's financial house in order, several sources said. A merger between the opera and symphony organizations came some time later.

The $1 million given to the Salt Lake City YWCA to help build a $4 million, 36-unit housing center for battered women and their children, named after Huntsman's mother, Kathleen Robinson Huntsman, made that program possible, said Anne Burkholder, CEO of the organization. "This could not have been done without them. It was the first program of its kind in Utah, only second in the nation," Burkholder said.

And Armenia is not the only giving outside of his home state. Marilyn Baptiste, principal of Memorial High School in Port Arthur, Texas — where the Huntsmans have a large chemical plant — said the Huntsman company has reached out to help area schools. "They have responded to every request we've every made," she said. "They do things that are noticed here."

Staying put

For a decade — and into the future — it's the cancer institute and the now-under-construction hospital that get most of their cash.

"We're going to keep giving (personally) and raising money for the institute until we have the Mayo Clinic of cancer hospitals here," Huntsman Sr. said.

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