When Elda Scott’s oldest daughter Sophia was just a toddler, they were attending Touch-A-Truck at the John Q. Hammons Center — now the Rogers Convention Center. It was there that Elda spotted something that would change the next couple decades for her, her family and eventually the entire region.
It was a white pop-up tent with a sign that read “Northwest Arkansas Children’s Museum.”
“I beelined over there and said, ‘Who are you and what is this all about?’ I’m pretty sure that’s literally what I said,” Elda Scott recalled. Jim Demaree and Holly Hook were manning the tent, and they told her their vision for creating a children’s museum for the region. “I said, ‘I’m not entirely sure what that is, but I want to be a part of it.’”
Scott gave them her name and phone number and said they should contact her to let her know how she could help. After that exchange, the first invitation Elda received was to join the founding board of what would become the Scott Family Amazeum. It was the first time she had taken on such a public leadership role.
As the board began to raise money for the effort, Elda approached her in-laws, Linda and Lee Scott, former Walmart CEO, about a potential donation to get the children’s museum off and running. They were happy to write a check, Elda recalls, but they wanted her and her husband Eric to take on the responsibilities that would come with it — the public appearances, the pouring of time and energy back in to the community.
The family has given to the Amazeum a number of times, most recently a $10 million donation in May.
“At the time I didn’t appreciate what a gift that [challenge of service] was, really,” Elda Scott said. When the Amazeum called to ask her if she and Eric would act as co-chairmen for the original capital campaign, “I wholeheartedly wanted to say ‘no’ because we had a toddler, but my husband, Eric, said yes.”
It was a daunting task, and the couple didn’t quite know what they were getting themselves in to. The first challenge, as they began to approach others with this grand idea, was that so many people didn’t have much concept of what a children’s museum was.
The founding leadership team of creators and tinkerers helped the Scotts communicate the vision, building a case for support that included visuals. Once they had Sam Dean on board, coming to Northwest Arkansas from the Exploratorium in San Francisco, that added a tremendous amount of credibility, Scott said, and helped them deliver the idea of what they had in mind.
Soon the Walton family donated a $10 million matching grant, which launched the Amazeum, and Rob and Melani Walton donated the land, property that directly neighbors Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art — a prime location.
When the Amazeum was under construction, Elda and Eric invited Linda and Lee Scott to come to town for a hard hat tour. By then, their second child Amelia was a toddler. Her in-laws were taken with the architectural elements of the building — the wood ceilings from Magnolia — and some of the key attractions like the Walmart semi truck cab that was one of the first things on the cement slab. The size and the scope blew them away. If they thought they’d been on board before, everything was surely different now; they’d never experienced a children’s museum, and this was sure to be an impressive one.
Then, Elda Scott said, everyone got excited.
“All those things, the moon and the stars, everything aligned, and we have an incredible children’s museum.”
The Scott family and Elda’s involvement in particular has “made all the difference,” said Sam Dean, CEO of the Amazeum. “Museums like the Amazeum emerge from deep community input, guidance and roll-up-your-sleeves effort. The Scott family has played such an integral role in helping develop the seed of the idea into the amazing building and organization you see today, ready to take its next steps of growth and expansion.”
What the public doesn’t see beyond those big announcements of forward movement, Dean says, are the countless hours of meetings preparing the Amazeum to be successful.
“No one has worked harder than Elda, Eric and the Scott family in making the Amazeum come to life,” he said.
In addition to remaining the chairperson for the Amazeum’s capital campaign, Scott is on the board of the Walton Arts Center and began the lemonade stand, a fundraising event that for the last seven years has taken place at the Walmart Northwest Arkansas LPGA Championship, with proceeds going to the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter. The family also set up the Sophia Scott Expanding Horizons Program there, which makes possible fun outings and birthday parties for children at the shelter.
Linda Phillips, director of development for the Children’s Shelter, has known Elda for 17 years and says she’s still the same kindhearted, genuine person now as she was then.
“Elda is dedicated to making Northwest Arkansas a wonderful place to live for all families and has made it a priority for her family to find ways to give back that are meaningful to them,” Phillips said. “She is always willing to assist and lend a hand.”
Scott’s ability to see all aspects of an event or situation and how they all work together makes her an incredible organizer, one who knows how to make an event run smoothly.
“Elda has a dedication to helping others,” Phillips said. “I admire her kind heart. She has passed this giving spirit on to her daughters.”
Farming was at the root of Elda’s family, being partly responsible for the creation of it and then giving it shape as the family grew.
Elda’s dad was working in the cotton fields by the time he was 10 years old, and her mom, born in Mexico, was a seasonal farm laborer who followed the harvest. On one of those trips to California, she met Elda’s dad.
They continued farming in a small town in California’s central valley, where they settled and had Elda and her sister just 18 months apart. Her dad continued the work, and while her mom technically qualified as a stay-at-home parent, she stayed busy cultivating the crops in summers, too.
While raising the girls, they worked together in the summers. Elda calls it an extraordinary way to grow up, since that was really the only time of year they worked. Winter was for vacations, and they all had a lot of fun.
“One of the things I value most about my childhood is having grown up in and around agriculture, having a real respect for people who work the land and where our food comes from,” Scott said. “Everything that goes into how a tomato ends up at Walmart, basically, because those folks work so hard and in a lot of cases, it’s migrant labor.”
Theirs was a traditional Mexican household. Elda didn’t do homework at the kitchen table or get bedtime stories, but they had a loving and affectionate father, Mexican music, Mexican food and a house full of family all the time. The whole crew did things together. The girls grew up in the dirt and fostered a deep appreciation for nature and how things grew from the earth, things that they considered gifts from God. The combination of those many things made for an incredible childhood.
The year that she began fourth grade, her parents took her to Catholic school in a neighboring town. No one else in their family did that and thinking back, Elda’s not sure how they had the foresight for that decision. It was the first time she had the chance to know kids and their families who were Caucasian.
By high school she and her sister returned to public school in a place that was a “small town Friday night lights” kind of community. The Mexican community, African American community and the white folks who lived in town were all segregated.
The high school didn’t provide the best education, Scott recalls, and she doesn’t remember anybody broaching the topic of college choice to her. But her older sister found encouragement from an algebra teacher who urged her to consider college and helped her in making the choice.
No one else influenced them to attend. Their parents hadn’t gotten an education, and their cousins were following the tradition of working in agriculture. Elda asked her mother for $20 for the college application and sent off just one — to Fresno State (California State University, Fresno) because it was easy to get accepted into and only an hour’s drive from home.
Once she got there, Elda had to ask her parents for just one more thing: a dress. She was going to pledge a sorority even though she didn’t know what to expect of that, either.
“I didn’t go to school with any ideas about what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be,” Elda Scott said. “Those weren’t conversations that happened around our dinner table, but I joined a sorority and I remember observing other girls and what they were studying or talking about or inviting me to participate in projects with them. That’s how I started to develop an idea of what I might study.”
Despite not having a clue what she was doing when she arrived, she must have looked the part or had sufficient confidence to be there. Years later, at one of her sorority sisters’ weddings, the bride told Scott that the day Elda had walked into the sorority house, she thought to herself that she needed to get her priorities together.
“I laughed so hard about that,” Scott said. “Me, the little Mexican girl who didn’t even know what I was doing in college, who went to school with those girls who are super driven and knew exactly what they wanted to do. (I thought) she had me mixed up with someone else.”
SAM WALTON’S STORE
The week of Elda’s last college finals, she wound up in the hospital. When her parents drove up to visit her, she was in the care of a neurologist and had some terrible virus. She didn’t return to school to finish her last exam, but Fresno State let her walk through the graduation ceremony. Elda had already landed a job at Walmart, another opportunity she attributes to her sister.
Elda had been working at a little boutique during her college years when she got a call from her sister, who had been studying Sam Walton in one of her classes at Santa Clara University. Walmart was about to build one of its first stores in California, and it would be located in Fresno. Her sister insisted that she needed to go work there.
On her first day, the store manager explained to her parents, who had driven up to take her to lunch, that store set up was particularly difficult work and that the weakest employees would be weeded out of the bunch quickly. Her parents were concerned, but Elda insisted she could do it. Her sister had a hunch that if she worked at a Walmart store, she could get her foot in the door for a bigger job.
“It was probably the experience that made me who I ultimately am today, because working in a Walmart store is like its own town,” Elda Scott said. “You are working with people from every background and every walk of life, and they become your family, so you learn a lot about yourself doing that kind of manual labor, working those kinds of hours, and you learn a lot about the commonalities you have with people everywhere, which I had never experienced.”
By day, Elda was running around with her sorority sisters. But on weekends and nights, she spent time with colorful, interesting people who were nothing like her. Reflecting on it now, she’s sure it eventually made her a better mother than she could have been.
After graduation, Elda was promoted from hourly associate to the manager training program. Being on her feet so many hours a day was tough, but she’s proud of that chapter of her life. She hadn’t known that she could be management material and yet, here she was. Scott realized she had something to offer and uncovered a strong work ethic.
At the end of the program, Elda was offered a position at Walmart’s home office in Bentonville. She called her dad to talk it through and when he suggested she accept the offer, she did. Her parents flew her to Arkansas as her sister and brother-in-law drove her U-Haul, and her cat, across the country.
AT HOME IN ARKANSAS
Years later, Elda’s parents would wonder where she got the courage to leave her tiny town, their Mexican community, and move to Arkansas without knowing a soul. But Elda herself didn’t think of it that way. She’d had such a positive experience working in Walmart stores and worked with such great people that she wasn’t afraid of the new prospect.
Friend Laura Phillips made the move to Arkansas to work at the home office at the same time.
“For both of us, moving to Arkansas on our own, figuring out how to adjust to a new culture and learning our first jobs post-college was a fun adventure and a bit overwhelming,” she said. The two became fast friends and roommates and adjusted to the new phase together. At the time, there were not as many young professional women in the community, especially Latina women. “I was so impressed with how Elda took this challenge on with confidence and grace. She jumped in feet first … Elda has a way of connecting with all people regardless of their backgrounds, levels and cultures that is truly unique and admirable.”
Elda was working as a buyer trainee for Walmart International when one Saturday morning meeting she was modeling for an ethnic women’s clothing brand. Afterward, she and a friend stopped to talk to a guy in the hallway and made plans to meet up in Fayetteville that night with a group of friends.
Ask Eric Scott, and he’ll say he purposefully sat next to Elda at dinner. They stuck together as the young crew moved on to Hog Haus brewery, and finally the two separated themselves from the rest of the group and talked all night long. They’ve been inseparable ever since.
After dating for a couple of years, the two were married at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Fayetteville. They struggled to begin their family, then welcomed Sophia five years into their marriage.
Elda left work to care for their daughter full time, and once Eric’s dad, Lee Scott, became CEO, he moved to Walmart.com. They had moved to Florida, but were still doing lots of business with Northwest Arkansas and wound up returning. Elda’s sister had moved to the area to work for the home office, and she had a little girl too. Their parents soon followed.
By the time that Sophia was in second grade, she was getting ready to take her first Communion, and Elda was planning a party. Instead of having presents, she encouraged her first daughter to pick a charitable cause, and they would make a money tree for donations. They visited the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter that year as its new facility opened. Sophia was sitting on the bleachers in the new gymnasium watching a video of children talking about their experiences , and one of the girls featured spoke about the order that they slept in the bed to protect the younger kids from what was happening in their home.
“On the way home, we had a really interesting conversation about why children lived there, and she said, ‘I think I need to raise money for them; that’s who I want to raise money for,’” Elda Scott recalled.
Sophia had done lemonade stands at home, but they brainstormed ways to elevate the effort to a bigger audience. Eric was friends with the organizer of the LPGA tournament, and they set the Scotts up with a giant tent.
It’s become a family tradition and, now that one of their girls is in college, it’s worth flying in for.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun and for us, having our daughter there participating in the work, washing the jugs, mixing the lemonade, talking to spectators, all of that, every single bit of it is more than we could have ever expected.”
Date and place of birth: November 28, 1971, Merced, Calif.
Family: husband Eric Scott, daughters Sophia, 21 and Amelia, 15
The last show I binged on television was: Victoria
My fantasy vacation destination is: Australia/New Zealand
The best advice I’ve ever received: It’s not about me.
People might be surprised to find out I: love to fly fish.
The accomplishment I’m most proud of is: my family. #thefourofus
My favorite place in Northwest Arkansas: Downtown Bentonville
Two things that made an impression on me in Bentonville in 1994: I called my mom and said “The ladies at McDonald’s are so nice. And you can write a check. They trust everybody here!”
The best memory from my childhood is: trips to Lake Tahoe.
The thing that makes me laugh the most: my husband.
The book/movie/play/art that had the biggest impact on me was: music. I grew up in a very musical family.
The most delicious meal I’ve ever had: my Mom’s Mexican cooking.
The Sophia Scott Expanding Horizons Program funds: all the fun stuff outside of the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter. Some kids have never been to a park, to a movie, to McDonald’s; they’ve definitely not been to the roller rink, to a bowling alley, never gone on a hike. So our program funds all of the extracurricular activities and also pay for the birthday parties. So many kids have never had a party.
About the lemonade stand (that donates proceeds to the Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter): we never expected it to go on this long. Every year when we’re standing there (in the heat) and making lemonade, Eric says, “Are we doing this again next year?” Yes, we are doing this again next year.
Three words to describe me: compassionate, optimistic and happy.