James Bond will have a presence at this year’s Miracle Ball benefiting Arkansas Childrens Hospital, but it's a family bond that will play the larger role.
Siblings Larry and Mark Middleton and Sandy Middleton-Marshall are the co-chairs — perhaps tri-chairs is the better word — for this year’s Casino Royale-themed event, which is one of the primary fundraisers for Arkansas Children’s.
Having more than one event chair is not unique in the world of philanthropy, but the Middletons, founders of Middleton Heat & Air, bring a lifetime’s worth of teamwork to this year’s gala, which will support emergency and trauma services in honor of first responders.
“We believe the Arkansas Children’s Foundation requested all three serve as co-chairs because members of their team had witnessed the closeness and strength of our working relationship that we enjoy as siblings, friends and business partners,” Larry says.
“The bond that we enjoy today is a result of us learning at a young age that life was better when we faced challenges as a team.”
Among the trio’s Miracle Ball responsibilities are the components of financial support, communication, organization and relationships, Sandy says.
In fact, the Middletons, Larry in particular, are responsible for the Miracle Ball’s 007 theme that comes complete with games of chance, a lavish casino setting based on the Bond films, hors d’oeuvres, martinis and an opportunity to win a 2020 Jaguar or a trip to Italy.
Larry recently visited the Montenegro Casino in Monte Carlo, the site of Bond’s high-stakes poker game in “Casino Royale.” Bond’s was a life-and-death adventure, but then, Sandy notes, there is just as much in the balance when it comes to the work of Arkansas Children's.
“The theme fit our interest in sharing with our community the high stakes Arkansas Children's takes on to serve our state’s children and the high stakes our first responders deal with daily for all of our benefits,” she says.
The Middletons grew up in Bryant where trips to Monte Carlo or the purring of high-performance sports cars were hard to imagine.
“Our early life involved some challenges due to health and financial circumstances, which created a closeness that continues to this day,” Mark says. “From a young age, we worked together to support our family and that created a unique bond.”
Times may have been tough, but the Middletons can check most of the boxes of a normal childhood — riding bikes to the ballpark, friends’ homes, school and the dairy bar in a town of just over 2,000.
“Being close in age, the three siblings had a lot of accountability to one another,” Sandy says. “Our inherent nature is competitive, yet there isn’t anything one of us would not do for the other. Both brothers have been leaders and role models my entire life.”
Faced with a question about childhood rivalries, the Middletons instead use it as a platform to praise each other and pay compliments. But no siblings come without some head-butting from time to time, situations the brothers both describe as “healthy debates” based on an upbringing that encouraged independent thinking.
“We grew up with parents that taught us to make decisions and to have confidence in ourselves," Mark says, "which can often lead to three different thoughts about who is ‘right’ when problem-solving.”
The teamwork born from tough times also helped birth a successful business. Middleton Heat & Air has been one of the mainstay heat and air conditioning companies in central Arkansas for more than 40 years.
“There were some really tough times, but some really great times,” Sandy says. “It made us stronger and more appreciative. Deciding to start Middleton Heat & Air in 1976, we had one of our many ‘family meetings’ to gain commitment from each family member to start the business.”
The Middletons are still principal owners, with Mark handling oversight and operation, but they have also branched out.
Larry is executive vice president at financial services firm Stephens Inc., Sandy is co-owner of real estate developer Coastal Partners and Mark is president of investment firm MidCorp Capital.
The Middletons are still physically close as well, each still calling central Arkansas home.
“Being close in age, living in the same city and growing up in a family where character matters have been a blessing in many ways,” Larry says. “Having a brother and sister that support and love you unconditionally, in a world full of challenges, is a feeling that I pray our children will share some day.”
THE BALL GAME
Just as they have followed different business paths, the Middletons also have different connections to Arkansas Children's.
Larry became interested more than 20 years ago when he volunteered with the hospital’s Committee for the Future. Sandy’s early career in pharmaceuticals led her into contact with Arkansas Children's while Mark’s role as a father and employer drew him in, whether he was seeing to his children’s health or that of the Middleton employees.
“Living in central Arkansas, I have observed the growth of the institution and shared in the pride of having one of the leading children’s hospitals in the country in our backyard,” Mark says.
In existence for more than 100 years, Arkansas Children’s treats patients from birth to age 21 and has grown to include two hospitals — in Little Rock and northwest Arkansas — a pediatric research institute, a foundation, clinics, education and outreach.
The hospital in Little Rock is among the largest pediatric hospitals in the nation, with more than 500 physicians, 200 residents, close to 4,500 support staff, 336 beds and three intensive care units. Affiliated with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), Arkansas Children’s is also a teaching hospital with the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics.
“Combining our talents as a family to support the Arkansas Children’s Hospital family that is focused on helping families in need seemed to make perfect sense,” Mark says.
In its 14th year, the Miracle Ball is one of the signature events of the social season. The event is poised to net $1 million for the second consecutive year, where proceeds will support improving patient experiences, specifically the aforementioned emergency and trauma services.
Since 2006 the ball has supported the Jerry G. Jones, MD Endowed Chair in Child Maltreatment fund, provided special beds for the neonatal intensive care unit, treatment rooms in the hematology/oncology outpatient clinic, music therapy, the David M. Clark Center for Safe and Healthy Children and beautification and renovation of outdoor spaces.
Highlights for Miracle Ball attendees will of course be the party atmosphere and all that it entails, plus the chance to win big. Highlights for the Middletons, however, will be more intrinsic.
“Celebrating the successful fundraising endeavor for the children of Arkansas is paramount,” Sandy says, “yet personal gratification to share this accomplishment with my brothers and family will be meaningful.”