History

Jack Whiteman, founder of Empire Southwest, the region’s Caterpillar dealership, established the Edna Rider Whiteman Foundation in 1961 with the belief that business has a fundamental responsibility to the community. Thirty-five years later, the organization became known as the Whiteman Foundation.

Since the foundation’s first major community investment, the Whiteman Foundation has invested more than $5 million primarily in Maricopa County. Beneficiaries have included community groups like the East Valley Child Crisis Center, the Arizona Museum for Youth and the Phoenix Art Museum.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, the foundation invested primarily in the arts and higher education. But at the turn of the century, the foundation’s emphasis shifted to early childhood development — creating awareness of the issues surrounding early childhood development and contributing to child welfare.

The foundation’s main funding source, Empire Southwest, commits more than 2 percent of its pretax profits to charity — 1 percent to the Whiteman Foundation and 1 percent to a sister foundation. Empire Southwest currently has more than 1,600 employees, 15 full-service locations and six planned future sites.

Leadership

The board of directors for the Whiteman Foundation consists of members of the Whiteman family.

John O. Whiteman

John O. Whiteman was born in Pendleton Oregon. He graduated high school, then started his college education at Eastern Oregon College and finished his B.S. in sociology at Arizona State University and postgraduate studies at Indian University. In his psychology classes at ASU, he began what would be come a lifelong interest in early childhood learning and the effects that wiring of the brain has on the life of each person.

John worked at night during college at his family’s business, Empire Southwest, the Caterpillar dealership for Arizona, northern Mexico and western California. John held positions in many areas of the operation. He steam cleaned parts and machines, sorted, stocked, and sold parts, swept floors, even flew a small plane to deliver parts to towns in rural Arizona. He sold machines to owner operator to large multinational companies. John spent 40 years at Empire, including 8 years as the CEO and 5 as the chairman.

Jack Whiteman led the Whiteman Foundation, created in the early 1960’s as the Edna Rider Whiteman Foundation until 1999.  The Foundation was originally named after John’s grandmother who was deeply involved in education. The foundation’s focus then was education. It then migrated to the arts and the funding of cancer research. The Foundation’s focus the past decade is back to it’s roots – children and education. John’s son Jeff served as the Chairman of the board for four years. John took over the leadership of the Foundation in 2003. The foundation board now consists of John’s children, Eric, Christy Wilson, Jeff, as well as John. 

John has a deep and passionate interest in early childhood development. He says, “One of the most important ways we can help our society is to make certain children’s brains are properly wired in the first five years of life.” John has been a child-advocate his entire career. He was a founding board member of the Arizona Museum for Youth, which is now known as the i.d.e.a. Museum, a hands on museum for children. The museum provides art and imagination inspiration while also inspiring critical thinking skills and creativity in children. In 1978, John negotiated with Eddie Basha to purchase property in downtown Mesa where the museum relocated. The museum has more than 100,000 visitors a year. It’s primary visitors are teachers and families with children from 18 months to 14 years old. As a result of his work and involvement in Mesa, John was recognized as Mesa Man of The Year – 2014.

He was the driving force behind the creation and construction of Educare Arizona, a world-class facility for teaching preschool children in the Balsz Elementary School district in Phoenix. John chaired the board of Educare Arizona, which raised the $11.3 million.  He and others built the building and worked with Southwest Human Development to operate the center. One of the many goals for establishing Educare was to affect early education public policy for the state of Arizona.

Recently John organized a new nonprofit, the Arizona Anti Trafficking Network to stop the trafficking of young girls and boys in the sex industry. Further he is encouraging the Arizona state legislature to fund full day kindergarten like they fund first thru twelfth grades. Obviously to John, and nearly everyone in the early education field, optional full day kindergarten is a critical component in the progression of educating a child. John has a passion for helping kids. His tenacity and his genuinely kind spirit have touched thousands of children and families in Arizona.

Jeff Whiteman

Jeff Whiteman, the chief executive officer of Empire Southwest, is the third-generation CEO of the Caterpillar dealership for Arizona, Southern California and Northern Mexico. Jeff grew up in the business and started working at the dealership in 1988 was named CEO in 2003. Empire Southwest has consistently been named one of the highest-performing of the world’s Caterpillar dealerships. Jeff is an Arizona native and a graduate of Arizona State University. 

Christy Whiteman Wilson

Christy Whiteman Wilson has worked with the Whiteman Foundation since 1995. An Arizona native, she is a member of the third generation of Whitemans. Christy is a graduate of Arizona State University and served on the board of Empire Southwest for 12 years. She and her husband, Jim, have five children.

Eric Whiteman

Eric Whiteman is passionate about his family’s legacy of community involvement and philanthropy. In addition to serving on the Whiteman Foundation’s board, he is a member of Empire Southwest’s  board of directors. Eric’s career includes work as a paramedic in Flagstaff, venture capitalist and entrepreneur, and as a member of the Arizona Nature Conservancy. Eric lives in Flagstaff with his daughter, Elizabeth.

Mollie C. Trivers

Mollie C. Trivers has served as the executive director of the Whiteman Foundation since 1995. Mollie has 30 years of experience in nonprofit and arts management, including more than 20 years in grants management in the public and private sectors. In addition to her work with the Whiteman family, Mollie is the director of major gifts at ASU’s Gammage, where her efforts have led to the eightfold growth of contributed annual income since 2001. Among her accomplishments, she served on the founding staff for classical music radio station KBAQ and Business Volunteers for the Arts.