Jon Huntsman Sr. may have been a titan of industry, but he was not the type to isolate himself in an ivory tower.
He made differences in the lives of thousands of everyday people. Sure, he did so with grand acts of philanthropy but also through plain old generosity.
Here are some of those he helped — from valets parking cars at a hospital to educators molding young minds, from a cellist teaching classical music to impoverished Haitians to college students chasing their dream careers.
Mason Milligan, valet supervisor at the Huntsman Cancer Institute
The valets at the institute always would look forward to seeing Jon Huntsman’s “iconic black Lincoln” roll up to the hospital entrance, said supervisor Mason Milligan.
“We see a lot of high-profile people who treat us like the help,” he said.
Huntsman was different, Milligan said, taking “10 or 15 minutes to have a conversation with us and ask our thoughts on things.”
He said Huntsman had “this humble nature” and seemed to care about everyone.
In addition to the conversation, Huntsman would tip “at least $100 but sometimes more,” which the valets on duty would split — or use to order pizza, said Milligan.
Last year, during grand opening festivities for the hospital’s expansion, Huntsman didn’t have enough cash, Milligan said. “He wrote down all of our names and said he’d be back.”
“He’s a man of his word,” Milligan said. “He came back about an hour later, passed out the money and said what a good job we were doing.”
Barbara Ham, Help Unit coordinator at Huntsman Cancer Institute
Huntsman always stopped at the in-patient desk to ask Barbara Ham and the other Help Unit coordinators how their day was going and if they needed anything. He was personable and wanted everyone to feel recognized, Ham said, not “just the nurses but everyone from the housekeepers to the mailroom.”
Often accompanied by his wife, Karen, Huntsman also made a point to visit with patients, Ham said. He seemed to know, “from his own cancer experiences, what it was like to feel miserable.”
Huntsman was the resident grandfather, too.
Ham said one Halloween several years ago, her granddaughters came to the hospital to show off their costumes. “As they were leaving, Mr. Huntsman came in and told them how cute they were,” she said. “Then he took them up to the bistro and filled their bags with candy.
“He started out from very humble beginnings, and I don’t think he ever lost that.”
Joy Lombardi, infusion room manager at Huntsman Cancer Institute
Joy Lombardi saw it time and again.
Huntsman would come into the area where patients were getting chemotherapy or a blood transfusion. He would sit down. And listen.
“He would often spend quite a bit of time with patients,” she said. “They wanted to tell him their story and their experience and how much the place meant to them.”
The encounters were genuine, she said. “As important as he was in the community, he wasn’t stuffy. Not how you would anticipate a billionaire to act.”
Paul Meecham, president & CEO for Utah Symphony | Utah Opera
Huntsman may not have been a fan of classical music, but he was a fan of having a world-class symphony.
He recognized the importance of it, said Paul Meecham, president and CEO of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera.
“He believed in the value of the arts and culture,” said Meecham, “and in the civic and cultural fabric of this community.”
Huntsman was board chairman for three years in the mid-1980s of the symphony, before it merged with the opera company — a time of important change for the organization.
“That was a period of significant growth,” Meecham explained “during which we became a full-time orchestra and began to pay our musicians 52 weeks a year.”
Meecham estimated that, whether through Huntsman’s foundations or his personal checkbook, he has donated $2.5 million to Utah Symphony | Utah Opera through the years.
John Eckstein, Utah Symphony cellist
Some of the money Huntsman donated to the symphony contributed to the group’s work with the Haitian National Orchestral Institute.
In partnership with the organization BLUME Haiti (Building Leaders Using Music Education), some 16 members of the Utah troupe devised a plan to go to the poor island nation last year, select 100 promising students from around the country and give them classical music training.
John Eckstein, a cellist in the orchestra for 27 years, mentioned the plans for the trip to former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who was “really taken with the program” and made Huntsman aware of the project.
“The symphony players pay much of their own way. And much of the expense is room and board for the students, and transportation because they come from all points,” Eckstein said. “[Huntsman] came around, handing out checks. It got us off the ground — it was our first donation and it gave us a lot of momentum.”
Orchestra members will return to the Haitian National Orchestral Institute this March, thanks, in part, to another donation from Huntsman.
“There is a population of students there striving to learn to play their instruments and classical music,” he said. “This is pretty life-altering for them — nothing of this scale happens there.”
Shawn Hafey-Francke, a 2017 Huntsman Education Awards winner
Shawn Hafey-Francke hadn’t even heard of these Huntsman awards before he won one last year for his teaching work at Ogden’s Horace Mann School.
He still isn’t quite over it.
“It was difficult for me to accept it — our job is predicated on teamwork; we all help each other out,” Hafey-Francke said. “So for me to get an award as an individual seemed wrong.”
No one else involved agreed, though — Hafey-Francke was nominated by one of his colleagues at the elementary school.
Because Huntsman came from a family of educators, he decided more than a quarter-century ago he would honor some of the state’s best. Each year, the Huntsman family takes nominations for outstanding teachers, principals and volunteers from elementary, middle and high schools around the state.
The dozen or so winners each year are feted in a surprise visit at their school by Karen Huntsman and presented with a check for $10,000, with a mandate that it be used for something personal, and not funneled back into the school or used on supplies.
That blew Hafey-Francke away as well.
“The first thing out of my mouth was, ‘This has to go to the school’ — and I got reprimanded,” he recalled with a chuckle. “… I’m supergrateful for the gift. It’s over the top.”
While he said he and his wife have yet to spend any of the 10 grand, there is a new roof for their house in the offing soon.
“I know it’s kind of boring,” he said, “but it’s definitely a necessity.”
Necessity. That’s how Huntsman viewed education.
Michael McFarland, a 2017 Huntsman Education Awards winner
Michael McFarland is a 45-year-old Salt Lake City resident who’s been volunteering in after-school reading programs at Utah grade schools for more than two decades. After spending 15 years at Indian Hills Elementary in Salt Lake City, he moved to Uintah Elementary six years ago.
The joy he takes from helping young children not only learn how to read, but to love it as well, was reward enough, he thought.
To be recognized as a 2017 Huntsman winner, though, and to get a $10,000 check on top of it were almost beyond his comprehension.
“I was honestly shell-shocked — I couldn’t even smile for the next three hours,” McFarland recalled. “Getting that award, I’m very honored. I look at it every day. It reminds me why I do it, why volunteering is so important.”
He’s grateful that Huntsman created the program and awestruck that he got to be a part of it.
And while the money was a big help toward getting a new used car — “a 2004 Honda CRV,” McFarland beamed, “I love it. I actually practically live in it” — that wasn’t even the best part.
“When they announced I won, Karen Huntsman asked all the kids in the school who knew me to raise their hands, and every single one of them did,” he said, choking up at the memory. “It was surreal, and that’s the thing I’ll remember the most.
Sam Burrows Wright, former Huntsman Scholar at Utah State University
Sam Burrows Wright grew up in Reno, Nev., and decided that she wanted to study business when she went to college.
A teacher at her high school who was a big influence on her had a curious suggestion.
“That teacher was a Utah State alum and suggested I check it out,” Burrows Wright recalled. “‘Utah State?’ I’d never even heard of it.”
Upon taking a visit to Logan, she became convinced it was the right place for her. And earning a prestigious Huntsman Scholar spot in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business sealed the deal.
Burrows Wright was a part of the program all four years she attended USU through her 2015 graduation. She got to travel overseas, meet industry leaders and learn about international markets.
She’s still amazed at the depth and breadth of the program.
“It’s really one of the premier programs for undergraduate business students out there,” she said. “In the program, we got a lot of mentoring, leadership training, exposure to alumni and career opportunities.”
Speaking of which, her job actually came through yet another Huntsman-funded USU venture. Burrows Wright now works at the Center for Growth and Opportunity, an immersive mentorship program at the university funded through a joint $50 million donation made by Huntsman and Charles Koch in May 2017.
Jacob Alder, Huntsman Scholar at USU
On a whim, Jacob Alder applied to Utah State University’s Huntsman Scholar program. Getting accepted has changed the student’s life.
“Every time I walk into this amazing school and see the Huntsman legacy. It’s humbling,” said the sophomore. “It’s hard to put into words my sense of gratitude.”
Alder said he recently spent a semester in Europe, taking classes at Oxford, meeting with large corporations in France, visiting the World Trade Organization in Geneva and touring the European Commission’s Joint Research Center in Belgium.
“All of this was to appreciate global business and ethics and trade relationships and to understand some of the factors that really make business worthwhile,” he said. “It wasn’t accounting or finance, but I learned a lot about what it means to learn and study and appreciate different cultures.”
He credits Huntsman’s vision and confidence “in what students are capable of,” as well as his deep-pocketed generosity.
“It’s one of the things I’m grateful for,” Alder said. “What this program has a done is truly unique.”
Scott Wilcox, Huntsman Scholar at USU
A 22-year-old Syracuse native triple-majoring in statistics, finance and economics at USU, Scott Wilcox is a fifth-generation Aggie.
An older brother was a USU ambassador and a student in the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. He’d heard good things about the Huntsman Scholar program from friends who’d participated, and encouraged Scott to apply.
He hasn’t regretted it.
This past December, program members took a weeklong trip to London, where he and others met with executives from Bloomberg, Deloitte, IBM and the BBC, among others, with a focus on gaining knowledge about how foreign markets work.
“Most of the people we met with were alums of USU’s business school,” Wilcox said.
His involvement with the Huntsman program helped him land an internship with JPMorgan Chase’s risk-management program in New York this coming summer.
“One of the employees there said he’d worked on various Huntsman Corporation accounts for many years, and that he and others there were very familiar with them,” Wilcox said. “He also said this program really set me apart from any of the students applying for this position.”
After returning from New York, he’ll have one more year at USU before he graduates and pursues a full-time gig.
“I absolutely attribute many of the things that’ve happened in my career to involvement in the Huntsman Scholar program.”