SALT LAKE CITY (News4Utah) – Jon Huntsman Sr. was born June 21, 1937, in Blackfoot, Idaho, to a poor teachers family. They moved to Palo Alto, Calif. in his late childhood where he excelled in high school and earned a full-ride scholarship to the prestigious Wharton Business School. Weeks after graduation, he married his high school sweetheart, Karen Haight.
Huntsman earned his fortune in the chemical field, developing polystyrene, a substance similar to Styrofoam.
He and Karen had nine children and fifty-six grandchildren who all remember his love and ambition. In a 1997 interview, Jon Huntsman Jr. said, “He’s always encouraged us to blaze our own trail, I remember very early on the talk of public service and it was because he had such a belief and desire to be in public service.”
While growing the Huntsman Chemical Company, Huntsman worked in the Nixon administration as a special assistant to the president.
In 1988, a massive earthquake hit Armenia, killing 50,000 people. Huntsman felt the need to help. Karen Huntsman said, “Jon came home after that earthquake, I still remember him in his navy overcoat saying, I have a strong feeling that we need to give money to Armenia.”
Armenia opened the door to a flood of philanthropy efforts over Huntsman’s life. After fighting cancer himself, he helped establish the Huntsman Canter Institute at the University of Utah and has donated more than 600 million dollars to the institution.
Jon Huntsman Senior’s charitable donations exceed $1.8 billion.
He was also a devoted member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving as a bishop, stake president, mission president and regional authority for the church.
Jon Huntsman said of his continual giving, “Building a business has been fun, but the business could leave tomorrow, and that’s ok, just don’t take away from us the privilege and the opportunity to help others. That’s what our business is all about, that’s what chemicals is all about, that’s what plastics is all about.”