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'Call me Sam'; snapshots from the life of a business giant.

March 29, 1918: Samuel Moore Walton is born in Kingfisher, Okla., the first child of Thomas and Nancy Walton. The couple's second son, James L. "Bud" Walton, is born three years later. The family moves from Kingfisher in 1923. During the next 10 years, the Waltons live in four Missouri cities -- Springfield, Marshall, Shelbina and Columbia.

May 1936: Sam graduates from Hickman High School in Columbia, where he quarterbacks the Kewpie football team to an undefeated season and is class president. He is active in almost every club and social organization at the school. His classmates recognize him as the "Most Versatile Boy."

May 1940: Sam considers obtaining an advanced degree in insurance from the University of Pennsylvania after graduating with a business degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia. But instead of pursuing an insurance career, he is drawn to retailing after visiting with recruiters from Sears Roebuck & Co. and the J.C. Penney Co. He joins J.C. Penney as a management trainee in Des Moines, Iowa, with a monthly salary of $85. Under the discipleship of James Cash Penney, Sam embraces the business concepts that will provide the foundation for his retailing empire. Two of those concepts are that customer satisfaction is more important than profit and employees, known as associates, should share in a company's prosperity. When Sam goes to work at J.C. Penney, the company has 1,586 stores and annual sales of $300 million.

Feb. 14, 1943: Sam marries Helen Alice Robson of Claremore, Okla. She is the 23-year-old daughter of millionaire lawyer, banker and rancher Leland Stanford Robson and his wife, Hazel. Sam, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, met his future wife while working at a local munitions plant shortly before being called to active duty in 1942. At the time of the wedding, Sam is a lieutenant in the military police. He remains in the country during World War II due to a malformation of nerves in his abdomen. He leaves the service in August 1945 as a captain.

September 1945: Sam, Helen and their 11-month-old son, Rob, move to Newport after Sam buys the local Ben Franklin Store. His wife's family provides funds to help Sam pursue his retailing ambitions. The couple's other three children -- John, Jim and Alice -- are born in Newport.

December 1950: Sam's landlord refuses to renew his lease, and he is forced to abandon his successful retail operation. He later secures a site in downtown Bentonville after almost striking a deal for a Ben Franklin Store in Siloam Springs. The opening of Walton's Bentonville five-and-dime store marks the beginning of a chain of variety stores extending from northwest Arkansas into Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

March 1961: Sam and Helen Walton enter the banking industry, purchasing a 65 percent stake in the Bank of Bentonville. That leads to the eventual creation of Arvest Bank Group Inc., a $1 billion asset holding company. Arvest acquires the Bank of Pea Ridge (now Springdale Bank & Trust) in 1963; First National Bank & Trust Co. of Rogers in 1975; First National Bank of Siloam Springs in 1983; McIlroy Bank & Trust of Fayetteville in 1986; half of Security National Bank of Norman, Okla., in 1987; Village South National Bank of Tulsa, Okla., in 1991; and The Farmers & Merchants Bank of Prairie Grove in 1992.

June 1962: Sam opens the first Wal-Mart Discount Store, a 16,000-SF operation at Rogers, with mixed success. Later that year, he tries to convince executives at Ben Franklin Stores Inc. in Chicago that the discount concept sweeping the nation will work in small markets. He lacks the capital to buy in volumes large enough to make the concept a success and needs Ben Franklin's support. But Ben Franklin officials reject the franchise opportunity after Sam informs them they must cut their wholesale prices by 20-25 percent for the format to work. Sam is forced to refine the formula through internally financed expansion, a slow process.

May 1969: Walton has a brush with death while piloting a twin-engine plane. His plane touches down at the Carthage, Mo., airport, moving down the runway at 50 miles per hour. Suddenly, another plane pulls directly into the path of Walton's plane. Sam immediately revs the engines and goes airborne again, narrowly clearing a student pilot's plane and avoiding a collision.

October 1970: White Weld & Co. of New York and Stephens Inc. of Little Rock take Wal-Mart Stores Inc. public with a 300,000-share offering at $16.50 per share on the over-the-counter market. Sam's concerns about limited capital inhibiting expansion plans end.

June 1976: Sam returns as head of the company after a 20-month retirement, replacing his chosen successor, Ron Mayer. Mayer, who was instrumental in Wal-Mart's growth, resigns rather than return to his former position as the No. 2 executive at the company. Sam says early retirement didn't suit him. He admits he couldn't keep from becoming involved in the company's management. He never tries retirement again, even after relinquishing the titles of president in 1984 and chief executive officer in 1988 to David Glass. At his death, Sam is Wal-Mart chairman.

October 1982: Sam tells Wal-Mart associates he has a rare form of leukemia. After beating the disease into remission, he is diagnosed with bone cancer in 1989. Two years later, he watches Wal-Mart register $32.7 billion in sales and surpass Sears as the nation's largest retailer.

March 17, 1992: Describing it as his biggest honor ever, Sam receives the Medal of Freedom from President Bush. During the presentation at Wal-Mart headquarters in Bentonville, Sam rises from his wheelchair momentarily to address the crowd. Nineteen days after that emotion-packed ceremony, Sam dies at Little Rock's University Hospital. Sam makes one final return trip to Bentonville.
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Title Annotation:Sam Walton: 1918-1992; Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Apr 13, 1992
Previous Article:On the rebound: Arkansas' unemployment figures show state moving ahead while parts of the country remain stagnant.
Next Article:Wal-Mart after Walton.

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