The Winning Team
It all started with a little girl and her dad, Fred Hill, who wanted to make a difference. Fred, a Philadelphia Eagles tight end, knew what it takes to win. He also knew about the fear of losing his three-year-old daughter, Kimberly, who was diagnosed with Leukemia. Fred approached Jim Murray, the Eagles’ General Manager, and asked if there was anything the team could do to help families whose children were battling cancer. Jim went straight to the goal line. He met with Dr. Audrey Evans, the head of pediatric oncology at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia. Jim told her that the Eagles wanted to do something for these kids. What could they do to help? It was Dr. Evans who said that a house was needed where families could live while their children were undergoing treatment. Jim then approached McDonald’s in Philadelphia, asking if they would get behind the creation of the house and the answer was a resounding “Yes.” The first Ronald McDonald House opened its doors in Philadelphia in 1974.
The idea caught on. But starting a House, especially at the beginning, wasn’t easy. There were no rule books, few models to follow. It took people with a passion, people with initiative. People like Larry Kimmelman.
Larry, then the president of the Boston area’s McDonald’s Co-Op for Marketing and Advertising, first learned about the House when he went to a national McDonald’s meeting in Philadelphia in 1977. “I know I’m lucky,” says Larry. “I had the good fortune to have two healthy daughters.” But he knew that not everyone was so lucky. “I loved the idea of the House,” says Larry. “And I loved the idea of giving back to the community.”
So it was in Philadelphia that the seed for the Boston Ronald McDonald House was planted.
Larry returned to Boston wanting to know more, wanting to do more. But would there be support for a House in Boston? Larry was determined to find out. Larry talked to LOTS of people. He talked to local McDonald’s Owner/Operators and they were “in.” “After all, they’re committed to giving back to the community morning, noon and night. Their goal is to help kids in some way,” says Larry. “ But there was a condition.” The McDonald’s Owner/Operators agreed that the only way they’d become involved was if the House were debt free, so it would never become a financial burden for the families the House was designed to support. Larry then approached Billy Sullivan, owner of the New England Patriots, asking for his backing. Billy offered his unequivocal support, and the Eagles GM Jim Murray led the way.
At the same time, Larry reached out to lots people in the medical community, including Dr. Steve Sallan, who is now Chief of Staff Emeritus at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Larry told Steve, “Look, there’s this Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. Do you think there’s a need for a House in Boston?” Steve didn’t have to think about it. He said, “You bet there is.” The Dr. Sallan said, “Come with me.” And Larry followed him out of his office and down the hallway to Division 28, the floor for kids with cancer. The kids that Larry saw that day still stay with him. “I remember these bald kids, dressed in hospital johnnies, carrying around IVs. They looked so frail, but in the midst of everything, these kids were smiling!” The visit to Division 28 made Larry even more determined to turn the House into a reality.
Dr. Sallan introduced Larry to people who could make that happen. Larry met parents like Frank Giroux, Pat Zona and Danny Rothenberg, who had lost children to cancer—parents who wanted to make the path easier for those who followed behind them. He also met people who were influential in the business world and in the community, people like Rud Ham, George Isenberg, Phil Ortins, Arnold Rosoff, Hank Shafran, and so many others.
Larry says, “While we were all different—from different professions, backgrounds, cultures—we had a common mission that tied us together. And once we got started, we wanted to do more and more. It’s like this idea, this project, it mushroomed with love. We were all in this together.”
They searched for a House, but not just anything would fit the bill. Some houses were too difficult to renovate. Others were too small or too big. Some were too far away from the hospitals or just would never fell like home. But then it happened. George Isenberg found a nurses’ dorm down the street from Children’s Hospital and DFCI’s Jimmy Fund Clinic, and it was in a real neighborhood. Then the work began, transforming an old Victorian filled with little cubicles into a welcoming home for families.
Larry coordinated the efforts and he’s still amazed at the outpouring of support. Al Bowermaster and Jack Heneghan and the other McDonald’s Owner/Operators in the Boston area did whatever they could to make the House happen, including raising funds. Other people in the business community were also there, donating everything from services to furniture to kitchen appliances. “It was an explosion of giving,” says Larry.
So what is it like for Larry to see the Boston Ronald McDonald House now, 25 years after its opening? Larry explains, “When people ask me what I’m proudest of, the Boston Ronald McDonald House is up there, second only to my children.” The he adds, “The House is perfect, exactly like we envisioned it.”