After 25 years of service, Jill Darling has announced her retirement from United Way. She will be greatly missed but we wish her the best. At the February Board Meeting, Jill gave a retirement speech that she said “is not like any retirement speech you have ever heard before.”
- Who’s the Boss?
Over the course of her 25 years, Jill has had 21 bosses. She read off the list of names to us from start to finish. After she read them she asked us if we noticed anything about the list. There were only TWO women in all of the 21!
- What’s a Microburst?
You don’t know? Well neither did Jill until they experienced it at the office! A microburst is a downburst of wind from a thunderstorm and can produce winds up to 100mph.
“In 2006 I learned what a ‘microburst’ is when it hit our office on SW I street on a hot day in August. I can still see Holly running down the hallway yelling as we all huddled in a make shift closet that didn’t even have walls to the ceiling. Needless to say it was one of the scariest moments in my career. It tore the roof off of the building and rained on 1/3 of everything in the building.”
- Mergers and Acquisitions
Over the course of her 25 years with United Way Jill has been through 6 mergers! First, there was the merger of Gravette, Decatur, Siloam Springs and Bentonville to form the United Way of Benton County in 1994. Then, there was addition of Bella Vista in 2001, Pea Ridge in 2002 and Rogers/ Lowell in 2002. We added McDonald County somewhere along the way and then the big merger in 2007 with Washington County and Benton County. Last but not least, Delaware County was added in 2013. After all of these mergers we now have United Way of Northwest Arkansas.
- Construction Management
Little did Jill know that she would become an expert on construction management while working for United Way.
“We received a gift of $200,000 from the Walton Family to construct an office and warehouse in Bentonville. To ‘save money’ we opted not to hire a construction manager. Well, by default, guess who that construction manager became – me. I still remember chasing down the contractor through the back field because he wouldn’t talk to me when the construction schedule was off track. We survived. In my career, I have helped build a building, helped in the sale of two buildings, and negotiated the purchase and remodeling of our current building. I think my next career might be in real estate,” said Jill.
- The Perfect Party
After 25 years of planning events Jill thinks that she has mastered planning the perfect party-almost! Jill shared with us a funny story about her party planning skills!
“It was our first attempt at a Pillars Party and we were beyond words that Mrs. Walton agreed to host the event. I was only a little dismayed when I found out that we would have to have a ‘port a potty’ in her front yard because she was afraid her plumbing couldn’t handle all of the extra guests!”
Jill let us all know that politics are “not in my future.” After dealing with the politics of trying to get 2-1-1 to be a statewide service, Jill decided that politics were not something she enjoyed.
- Control the Situation
In particular she was referring to controlling the press! One time, for example, the President of United Way Worldwide came to Northwest Arkansas and the press came to take pictures of their dinner. They were shocked though to see that the photo the press had chosen to put on the front page of the newspaper was a picture of a beer bottles with the United Way Worldwide president blurred in the background!
- Be Careful What You Ask For
Though it turned into her proudest accomplishment the Gifts in Kind warehouse was something Jill was definitely not ready for when they got what they were asking for.
“Let me bring you back to 1994 when I had a casual meeting with several Walmart associates about the possibility of having us coordinate their donation program. I get a call the next day saying they wanted United Way to manage their entire program. Little did I know what that would mean. At that time there were only 2 of us in the office. We quickly secured a warehouse and I remember when that first semi-truck pulled up to the dock. There were 24 pallets of stuff. We didn’t even know how to use a pallet jack. It took Karen and I all day to unload that truck. We sorted all of the product and even tried taping up all the packages of toilet paper! At the end of the day, we looked at each other and said ‘I don’t think we can do this.’ 18 years later, I can say that this program is the one I am most proud of – We have distributed over $180,000,000 in product to people in need since the program started. “
- DO Sweat The Small Stuff
Usually we are told not to sweat the small stuff, but Jill recommends that we do. In her 25 years of service, she said it is always the small stuff that turns out to be the biggest issues. For example when Benton and Washington County combined the biggest issue was over a seemingly small issue. The issue? Whether or not to serve alcohol at events. “Who would have thought?” said Jill.
- My Wish For United Way
Last but not least, Jill explained to us that she has had an old African American Prayer hanging in her office that she says is her final wish for United Way of Northwest Arkansas.
“Lord, we’re not what we want to be,
we’re not what we need to be,
but thank God Almighty
we’re not what we used to be.”