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Ross Whipple

Helping turn a community’s dreams into reality

By Wayne Bryan

This article was published August 7, 2011 at 2:11 a.m.

— When members of the Arkadelphia High School Class of 2011 received their diplomas in May, a record number of seniors said they were bound for college as the first students to receive the benefit of the Arkadelphia Promise scholarship, which pledges to pay for tuition for qualifying students.

The offer of the Promise scholarships for Arkadelphia students is pledged for another 17 years by the Ross Foundation, along with Southern Bancorp, both institutions headquartered in Arkadelphia.

One of the originators of the Promise is Ross Whipple, chairman of the Ross Foundation and of Summit Bank in Arkadelphia. He became interested in the scholarship after a similar program was begun for El Dorado students by Murphy Oil.

“I am close with the Murphy Oil chairman, Bill Noland, and I told him that the establishment of the El Dorado Promise made me mad because we didn’t think of it first,” Whipple said. “I also told him that imitation is also great flattery.”

As a member of the education committee for the Clark County Strategic Plan, Whipple said the Promise scholarship fit in well with the community’s hopes for support of the city’s schools and encouragement of higher education for young people, who can help give Arkadelphia a moreprosperous future.

“The state lottery is what really made it possible,” Whipple said.

Students who apply for the Promise scholarship must also apply for the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship and other forms of financial aid. Those who qualify for the lottery funds also meet the academic requirements for the Promise scholarships.

“The lottery takes care of the first $2,500, and the Promise takes care of the rest, but it’s a stretch,” Whipple said.

He said he hopes to broaden the base of support for the Promise program in the community, with additional donors getting involved in the effort to send Arkadelphia’s children to college.

Whipple also said he would like to see additional scholarships for academic achievement, more like athletic scholarships.

“And we don’t want to forget those who educate the students and help them get to a higher level,” Whipple said.

“The Arkadelphia Promise is the greatest thing I’ve done in my professional career,” he said. “I’m proud to be a part of it.”

Born in Arkadelphia, Whipple grew up in Malvern and attended public schools there.

“I grew up in the typical middle-class family, where there was always too much month left over at the end of the money,” he said.

That may be why Whipple said he always had an interest in business.

“I started mowing yards when I was 11, and by 13, I had a couple of guys working for me cutting grass,” he said. “One time, my father told me I was making more money that him. It might have been during some of the season when we cut a lot of grass.”

Whipple said he also worked in construction, as a life guard and at a “little bit of everything” as a youth. Born with a stutter, Whipple said that when he was about 15 years old, he rid himself of the stuttering through his own determination.

Af ter graduating from Malvern High School, he returned to Arkadelphia to attend Henderson State University. His choice of college and the primary direction of his life from that point on were influenced by Jane Ross, a third cousin who operated the family timber business and who, along with her mother, Esther Ross, established the Ross Foundation.

“Out of six children in my parents’ generation, I was the only grandchild,” Whipple said. “The family business was without an heir, and Jane scraped the bottom of the barrel and picked me out.”

At Henderson, he studied finance and economics. After a few years in the U.S. Army, he attended graduate school at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, then returned to Arkadelphia to work for the Ross Foundation.

Working for the family business and the foundation,Whipple began to work in banking and timber.

“They asked me to be a bank president, and I said I would take it for 90 days,” Whipple said.

Whipple had been a leader in several banks as the holding company begun by Ross grew, and acquired and consolidated banking properties. Summit Bank, with its headquarters in Arkadelphia, is where Whipple now serves as chairman.

Having become involved in the timber business under Ross, Whipple today oversees more than 120,000 acres of timber. He said half of the property isowned by the Ross Foundation, and he oversees a timber management company, Horizon Timber Services. He is also managing general partner for The Whipple Family Limited Partnership. Whipple said that is a separate venture, in which the lands are considered to be a charitable asset. He said those lands are managed like a mininational forest.

“All the organizations are land-based, and most of the land and timber are still in Clark County,” Whipple said.“If that is where the money comes from, our efforts need to stay there as well. The foundation encourages grant applications for local projects.

Whipple said the concept of helping the local community was the intent of those who began the foundation, and he is charged with honoring that commitment.

As chairman of a bank in the region, Whipple said he is aware that there is a great potential for economic growth in the Arkadelphia area, but also many challenges to achieving that growth.

“Arkansas has an economic engine, but south of Interstate 40 and Interstate 30, things have not gone so well, even in better times. The area remains tied to agriculture,” he said. “We are blessed in Arkadelphia to have two universities, I-30 and De-Gray Lake. I hate to think what it would be like without them, but the colleges often do not fully capitalize on the community, and the community has failed to capitalize on the colleges. There is so much we can do together.”

Whipple said he wants theRoss Foundation to be a catalyst for all of the community to move toward economic development. He points out that there have been a number of projects that have been planned for, over the years, but those efforts seem to wane over time.

“You know, planning without execution is merely dreaming,” he said. “We need only a little more planning, and then a lot of trying to execute the plan.”

Whipple said that while money is hard to come by in today’s economy, for projects to be sustainable in the region, actions will need to be taken by the community, with private investments.

“The commitment of ownership can always make things more successful,” he said.

Whipple believes all of his work comes together for a better future because of what he called the greatest natural resource of the area.

“That resource is wood fiber, either for a biofuel or for making electricity,” he said. “I have told many others that I believe there is more fuel growing on the ground than there is in the ground. We just have to develop it.”

Whipple said that when that resource is used in a sustainable way, the area will grow into a stronger and better community for all its residents.

Just more than a month ago, Whipple turned 60, but he said he has no plans for retirement.

“I think about that all the time, but I have plenty to do. I want to continue to grow Summit Bank and our personal business. I do love the timber business,” he said. “I love what I do and how I try to make a difference in the community. I have no plans for retiring. I have time and energy for one more big project.”

All of Arkadelphia and the entire community are eager to see what that new big thing will be.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

up

closegetting to know Ross M. WhippleBirth date: June 27, 1951 Birthplace: Arkadelphia Occupation: Chairman of Summit Bank and chairman for the Ross Foundation; I manage risk.

Family: Wife, Mary; and daughters, Mary Elizabeth, Margaret and Emily Biggest influence: Jane Ross, founder of the Ross Foundation As a child, you said you wanted to be: Involved in business One thing you want to accomplish in life but haven’t yet: Duck hunt the entire Mississippi River flyway from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico in one season Most people don’t know: I overcame stuttering.

Favorite quote: “You run out of money before you run out of deals, so you have to pick and choose.”

Tri-Lakes, Pages 127 on 08/07/2011

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