Following numerous business successes, including careers in computer sales, retail clothing, and currently, home building, Arizonians Ira and Mary Lou Fulton have set their sights on building today’s youth into tomorrow’s leaders. In the December 1, 2003 edition of BusinessWeek magazine in an article titled “America’s Top Givers”, Ira and Mary Lou were listed as the #42 most generous philanthropists in the country.
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“How many more tens of millions I’ll give the university, I can’t tell you,” says Arizona homebuilder and philanthropist Ira A. Fulton of his generosity toward Brigham Young University. “As long as its being used in the right place and the Lord blesses me in my business, I know where the money goes. If things work out the way I want them to, I’d like to say that by the time I’m ready to retire that I’ve given hundreds of millions.”
In recent years Ira and his wife, Mary Lou, have been very generous with BYU—$50 million worth. On November 6, 2003 BYU announced that its engineering college was being named the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology. “The Fultons have made many significant contributions to BYU,” says BYU President Cecil O. Samuelson. “Indeed, they are among the most generous contributors ever to the university. But Brother and Sister Fulton have not only been generous with their own means, they have encouraged others to contribute as well.”
Ira says their generosity is all about students—tomorrow’s leaders—and personal testimony. “The prophet asks me for something, and he’s got it,” Ira says. “I feel that I’m just a custodian of the blessings I have from heaven. And if I can help the next generation of quality students prepare to make an impact when they graduate, my efforts will have been worth it.”
“Ira is very much like a member of the family,” said Doug Chabries, dean of the newly renamed college. “He calls us up; he’s interested in what we’re doing. He wants us to express our dreams and then he wants us to achieve them, and so he holds us accountable as an investment—not for what he wants to see—but for what we want to see.”
President Gordon B. Hinckley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints learned of Ira’s commitment just over three years ago. At the conclusion of BYU’s “Lighting the Way” capital campaign President Hinckley asked donors if the total amount raised couldn’t be rounded up from the $380 million raised to an even $400 million. And before the evening ended, Ira came forward and told the prophet quietly, “You’ve got your additional $20 million.” A bit surprised, President Hinckley leaned to then-BYU president Merrill J. Bateman and asked, “Is that man for real?”
Ira A. Fulton is for real. And so is his generosity. And Arizona State University, the Boy Scouts of America, BYU, BYU–Hawaii, Church Humanitarian Services, the Perpetual Education Fund, and countless people blessed by these and other organizations are glad it is so.
“Everything I do, and everything I have, belongs to the young people . . . and of course to the Lord,” says Ira.
Arizona homebuilder, corporate mogul, entrepreneur, businessman, husband, father, Latter-day Saint, and philanthropist—Ira A. Fulton is an accomplished man.
Of course wealth isn’t a prerequisite for a giving heart—and the Fultons exemplify that statement. Neither was born into wealth. Ira is the youngest of seven children, raised from his teens by a single mother who struggled to provide for a large family. Ira says as a child what he wanted to be when he grew up was a good businessman, so he could help his mother. Mary Lou, too, grew up in a family with a lot of love but not a lot of money.
Excelled Since Youth
Ira is a hard worker, and coupled with his drive to be a good businessman, and his pace, he has excelled since his youth. At 18 Ira was the top newspaper carrier for the Arizona Republic. And after graduating from Tempe Union High School he procured a labor-intensive summer job loading produce on freight trains that netted him a sizeable sum of money and arms the size of Popeye’s.
“I figured the reason I had so much money was because I paid tithing on what I earned. I gave the Lord 10 percent. . . . In my mind it was an insurance policy,” says Ira. “Money never possessed me . . . it was only a way to make life easier for myself and others. It was just a vehicle.”
While attending Arizona State College Ira met Mary Lou. They have been married for nearly 50 years and are the parents of three children and twelve grandchildren.
Mary Lou says that giving is just part of who Ira is. She tells of a time when their children were small and money was tight. When she saw Ira give their last $20 in cash to his ailing mother, she knew they would have to forgo some things (including school shoes for the children), but she also knew that Ira’s mother truly needed the money. “I think giving has been a habit with him since day one,” she says.
Throughout his life Ira has succeeded in achieving his goals. He had a successful career as a salesman for National Cash Register. He started and sold several consulting businesses. He turned a struggling retail business into a case-study success story. And he grew a small construction company into Fulton Homes, one of Arizona’s most successful homebuilders.
True to its owner’s nature, the literature of Fulton Homes proudly states:
At Fulton Homes, we donate fifty percent of our profits to worthy causes. Rather than having profits end up in the pockets of absentee stockholders, these funds are primarily targeted toward enhancing the education of today’s young people. Tomorrow’s citizens are Ira’s passion, and Fulton Homes is the vehicle used in making a life-changing difference for them.
“You’re Proud to Own, and We’re Proud to Build” is the motto of Fulton Homes. It is a business model driven by quality and service to customers. Some of the most beautiful communities with the greatest property value in the greater Phoenix area are Fulton Homes’ subdivisions. Ira tells homebuyers, “Building a home is likely the single largest investment you will make. Take your time; do the research. We are confident that when all of the facts are in, you will become the proud owner of yet another quality Fulton Home.”
Quality more than quantity is what Ira and Mary Lou are all about. As it is in their business, for the Fultons, philanthropy is about treating people right—about providing opportunities for and encouraging greatness.
“Ira loves people, and it shows,” says Bruce Snow, a director of LDS Foundation and executive director of the BYU Development Office. “He also loves getting them involved, never asking from others what he is not willing to match himself. He is a get-it-done person, and BYU’s landscape for learning has vastly changed through his efforts.”
“I became involved with the Y because of the caliber of faculty and administrators there,” says Ira.
“I stay involved because of the students—they are the finest I’ve ever met.”
Mary Lou agrees saying, “Seeing the goodness of the students—there’s nothing better.”
The Fultons’ involvement at BYU has been extensive. It has been described as significant and indelible. Among their many contributions to the university are:
- Two of the fastest supercomputers in American higher education—named in honor of Mary Lou—which are scheduled to be upgraded again next year, further opening doors of opportunity for students and the university. (See marylou.byu.edu.)
- Workstations for the BYU Center for Remote Sensing that have enabled student and faculty research on icebergs, hurricanes, and other phenomenon. Resulting data and analysis have been provided to NASA and other government organizations. (See cers.byu.edu.)
- A scholarship fund at BYU–Hawaii that brings deserving students from Mongolia and Cambodia to study in Laie. (To date, 22 students have qualified for the scholarships.)
- Renovations of the12th-floor neuroscience labs in the Spencer W. Kimball Tower, which enable psychology students to deepen and improve their research.
- Media arts production and editing equipment that provides students experience with cutting-edge technology. The result is improved internship, career, and graduate school opportunities for BYU-educated cinematographers, audio technicians, and multimedia creators.
- A state-of-the-art inventory system that not only improves the BYU Museum of Art’s collection management but also allows people from all over the world to experience the museum’s art collection via the Internet at www.byu.edu/moa.
- Thesmophoria—a beautiful painting that is now part of the Museum of Art’s permanent collection. Created in the 1890s by Francis Davis Millet as a study for a larger mural, Thesmophoria is considered a perfect example of the beaux-arts mural tradition.
- More than 50 electric, golf cart-type vehicles, known as GEM cars, now efficiently moving people and equipment at BYU, on other Church educational campuses, and at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
- Support for the BYU School of Technology’s construction management and information technology programs, which have been streamlined and improved to better prepare students for today’s technology-driven world. (See et.byu.edu/sot.)
- Significant leadership and donations in support of fund-raising efforts for the new Joseph F. Smith Building and the new Athletic Complex—both buildings will be entirely funded by donors and will improve the physical infrastructure of campus.
Ira currently serves on the executive committee of the BYU President’s Leadership Council, a group of top-level donors who encourage and facilitate giving to BYU.
Ira and Mary Lou are known for their ability to make and keep friends. Among those are the thousands of individuals blessed by the Fultons’ generosity. Many of these people, however, will never get to personally thank Ira and Mary Lou.
At the BYU announcement ceremony of the new college name, students, whose opportunity for education has improved because of the Fultons, were able to shake hands, give hugs, and express thanks personally to Ira and Mary Lou.
One student said of his meeting the Fultons on that day, “I felt as though they were my grandparents—they wanted to know my name, what I was doing in school, and what they could do to help me meet my goals. I don’t think I have met more amicable and altruistic people.”
Dr. David Anthony is the associate dean of the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology at Brigham Young University. His wife is a seminary teacher and they have five children.
Anthony says of the Ira and Mary Lou:
“The Fultons are two of the most wonderful people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Their desire to assist young people gain the best education possible is only surpassed by their desire to see the Church grow and spread throughout the earth. They have the vision to know that this goal can only be realized by supplying the world with leaders whose moral and ethical standards set them apart. They, also, have the faith to know that BYU, BYU–Hawaii, and BYU–Idaho are collecting places for future leaders.”
Even though I am part of the Fulton College, I have never heard Brother or Sister Fulton ask which college their donation is benefiting. They only ask how many young people will be helped. They truly understand the principle of charity and have blessed my life, as well as the lives of many others, by their love and the sharing of their excess.”
Art McKinlay works for LDS Foundation (www.ldsfoundation.org) as the director of corporate and foundation relations in the BYU Development Office. He and his wife are the parents of four children.
Of his work, and the Fultons, McKinlay says:
“I am blessed to count Ira and Mary Lou as friends—and examples. I am lucky enough that in my work as a development officer, I get to help people like Ira and Mary Lou fulfill their dreams. Generous souls, like the Fultons—philanthropists (which means “lovers of mankind”)—understand and live the second great commandment. Their dream is simply to help others succeed—to save and change lives.
“My favorite part of what I do is seeing the light that comes into the eyes of a donor when they see their money at work blessing others with opportunities. For the donor, giving is pure joy—the kind of joy that simply accumulating money cannot provide. Again and again, the Fultons have taught me this principle through their generosity towards the students at BYU.”