The i.d.e.a. Museum staff is deeply saddened by the passing of museum founder and philanthropist John O. Whiteman. In Mr. Whiteman’s spirit, we encourage families in the Valley to take a moment to volunteer at organizations that make a difference in our community.

“Words are inadequate to express the impact of John O. Whiteman on the community, our museum and every person he met, including me,” said Sunnee D. O’Rork, executive director of the i.d.e.a. Museum. “He will be dearly missed as there is only one John O. Whiteman.”

More than 40 years ago, Mr. Whiteman envisioned a destination for families, where together children could enjoy beautiful art and express themselves creatively. That place would eventually become the i.d.e.a. Museum, which has attracted almost 3 million visitors in its 40-year history.

“He truly impacted millions of children and families by his actions,” said O’Rork. “Kindness and compassion were always No. 1 to him. In his memory, please be kind to all who cross your path.”

Mr. Whiteman peacefully passed away in the morning of May 30 in the comfort of his home surrounded by his family. He leaves behind his wife, Betty; 5 children, son Jeff Whiteman (Holly), daughter Christy Wilson (Jim), son Eric Whiteman (Sarah) and stepsons Stephen Taylor (Todd) and Christopher Taylor (Jenny); 16 grandchildren; 5 great-grandchildren; and a sister, Jinx Patterson. He lived a life committed to helping others and making a positive impact in everyone he met.

Of particular importance to Mr. Whiteman was giving back. He was passionately committed to philanthropy that benefited young children, supporting numerous organizations in these endeavors. And he had a strong commitment to sharing the benefits of art with children and the importance of early-childhood education.

He supported ArtVille, Mesa K-Ready, EduCare and all-day Kindergarten. He leaves a legacy of kindness, hard work and compassion that will resonate in all the lives that he touched.

The importance of art for little ones made business sense to him, too. “Children’s art stimulates an open, creative and productive mind that will fully blossom in solving tomorrow’s problems,” said Mr. Whiteman, in a statement for a museum function earlier this year. See video.

In another statement, he said: “Although some may regard art education as a luxury, simple creative activities are critical building blocks of child development. Learning to  create, imagine, appreciate and ‘think out of the box’ are the social aesthetics that may be more important than ever to the development of children as they grow up in this ever-increasing complex world.”

The i.d.e.a. Museum in 2011 named the Whiteman Family Exhibition Gallery, in honor of all Mr. Whiteman and his family have done for the museum. The gallery rotates art exhibitions that feature hands-on activities for children of all ages to enjoy. The upcoming exhibition, Roadside USA, embodies some of Mr. Whiteman’s great joys – exploring new places, enjoying art and always learning.

Mr. Whiteman worked his entire adult life at Empire Southwest, becoming the second generation of Whitemans to serve as CEO in the mid-1990s. He established Empire’s values of safety, integrity, respect, excellence, teamwork, stewardship and astonishment, which continue to guide the company to this day. John retired in 2002 to focus on philanthropy, placing his attention on many wonderful community causes through the Whiteman Foundation.

The i.d.e.a. Museum staff is deeply honored by Mr. Whiteman’s commitment to the Valley and especially Mesa. We thank Mr. Whiteman for the impact he’s made on so many lives.


The i.d.e.a. Museum is a part of the City of Mesa and is supported by the i.d.e.a. Museum Foundation. The foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization with a mission to provide sustainable resources to fulfill the i.d.e.a. Museum’s mission through fundraising, advocacy, and partnerships. Its vision is to create infinite possibilities for the i.d.e.a. Museum.