Everyone in Bentonville has a Walton’s story, but Kurt Templeton’s is pretty good. His sister was Steuart Walton’s (third generation Wal-Mart heir) first girlfriend. True fact. One night when Kurt was eighteen, he and his sister went by the Walton’s house. “We were hanging out and I realized I had the nicest car of the bunch. These guys, richest on the planet, had old cars.” The Wal-Mart ethos of modest frugality runs deep, at least in the Ozarks. “So much of the company is predicated on people who haven’t had a break. The Walton’s have hunting ranches and vacation houses all around the world, but not in Northwest Arkansas.”
Fifteen years or so later, Kurt’s worked for Wal-Mart ever since graduating from OSU, using his journalism degree and artistic talent indirectly. His wife Kyla also worked at Wal-Mart before stepping down when their two boys were born. The family lives downtown, within walking distance of the square, a block or two from some of the Walton grandchildren.
Kyla is a bicycle disciple and triathlete who competes in short competitions. “I don’t have the time to do an Ironman. I can’t leave Kurt with the boys while I ride a hundred mile or run a marathon. I like to swim, bike and run but I sprint them all.” Kyla heads the Arkansas Interscholastic Cycling League, which operates all over the state but is very strong in Bentonville, where Walton grandson Tom is one of many Walton’s with a keen interest in cycling and The Walton Family Foundation’s funds many cycling initiatives. “Every school in Bentonville has thirty bicycles. Every third grader learns bicycle safety and rides for PE.”
After the three and four year olds are in bed our conversation meanders into deep streams. In this town with such a singular corporate identity, people see benefit to corporations taking on roles traditionally allocated to government. As Kurt sees it, “Wal-Mart serves 160 million customers. Forty million could stop shopping there next week and have other options. All of Amazon’s customers can walk. Can you imagine having a four to six year contract with your grocery? That’s what we have with our politicians. Businesses are much more responsive.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“I haven’t really thought it beyond tomorrow. We’re corralling the Dirt Divas, the girl’s mountain bike group, to ride out to Blowing Springs. I’m looking forward to being in the woods and being with other girls. We’ll also have some good wine and cheese.
“How about the other way to take that? I think a whole lot of people are going to revolt against social media.” – Kyla
“Oh, good luck with that.” –Kurt, without looking up from his smartphone.
“That’s why I’m going mountain biking with my fiends tomorrow.” – Kyla
“That’s why I’m tweeting a bunch of people I don’t know. Social media is extroversion for introverts.” – Kurt
“It’s a really hard question. I think tomorrow is a fork in the road. Politically, in the US and UK, it comes down to whether we want to isolate ourselves from people different than you or connect with them. It’s counterintuitive that we know so much about health but are so unhealthy. It doesn’t help that technology defines everyone by the worst one percent.
“As yogi bear says, ‘When you get to the fork in the road, take it.’” – Kurt