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Our History

Learn how the “House That Love Built” came to be

The First Ronald McDonald House

It all began in Philadelphia in 1974 when three-year-old Kim Hill — daughter of Philadelphia Eagles football player Fred Hill and his wife, Fran — was being treated for leukemia at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children.

During Kim’s three years of treatment, the Hills often camped out on hospital chairs and benches and ate makeshift meals out of vending machines, all while watching other parents do the same. They learned that many families traveled great distances to bring their children to the medical facility and couldn’t afford hotel rooms.

The Hills knew there had to be a better way. Fred rallied the support of his Eagles teammates to raise funds. Through Jim Murray, the Eagles’ general manager, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Evans dreamed of a comfortable temporary residence for families of children being treated at her hospital.

Murray enlisted Don Tuckerman from the local McDonald’s advertising agency, who with the support of McDonald’s Regional Manager Ed Rensi, launched the St. Patrick’s Day Green Milkshake (now known as the Shamrock Shake) promotion. Funds raised went toward purchasing an old house located near the hospital.

Large group stands in front of house with big check

And, thus, the first Ronald McDonald House came to be.

By 1979, 10 more houses opened. By 1984, local communities founded another 60 houses (including the Ronald McDonald House in Albany); then 53 more opened by 1989. Today, more than 377 Ronald McDonald House programs operate in 45 countries and regions around the world, providing comfort and support to more than 10 million families since 1974.

Sepia-toned photo of Victorian-style house

The idea to open a Ronald McDonald House in Albany started with Dr. William Cromie, who came to Albany Medical Center as head of Pediatric Urology in 1979. Dr. Cromie had served at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital from 1975-1979 — the formative years of the first Ronald McDonald House. During his tenure in Philadelphia, he witnessed first hand how the Ronald McDonald House helped families coping with the illness of a child.

In June 1980, Dr. Cromie, Albany Medical Center officials, McDonald’s owner/operators, members of the Albany Junior League and other concerned citizens met in a boardroom at Albany Medical Center. It was at this meeting that the seed for the Albany Ronald McDonald House was planted.

For the next two years, hundreds of volunteers worked shoulder-to-shoulder, logging endless hours to ensure that the dream of a Ronald McDonald House in Albany became a reality. Their efforts paid off, and on June 30, 1982, the Albany Ronald McDonald House opened its doors to its very first guests, becoming the 35th Ronald McDonald House in the world.

Five years later, in 1987, it became apparent that the facilities at 139 S. Lake Avenue were inadequate to meet the overwhelming need of families. The Board of Directors voted to purchase a second house next door at 137 S. Lake Avenue. Over the course of two years of renovations that required tremendous community support, the two houses were turned into one.  By June of 1989, the capacity of the Albany Ronald McDonald House had doubled, with 16 bedrooms now available for families in need.

Red Victorian house with large front porch

By 1992 — our 10th anniversary — the Albany Ronald McDonald House counted more than 5,000 guests served at the “House That Love Built.” In 1996, Ronald McDonald House and Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities merged to form RMHC of the Capital Region and our programs began to expand even further.

In August of 2000, the Ronald McDonald Family Room opened inside the children’s hospital at Albany Medical Center. For the first time, the comforts of the Ronald McDonald House were made available to families just steps away from their child’s bedside. In June of 2006, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile debuted in partnership with St. Peters Health Care Services. Now, in addition to supporting family-centered access to quality health care, we could deliver free, comprehensive dental care to children most in need.

Green Victorian house with black porch railing and porch lights on

On our 30th anniversary in 2012, RMHC of the Capital Region launched a fundraising campaign to add a third house to the original two established in the ’80s. The $2 million project was completed in 2015, adding nine guest rooms and allowing the Albany Ronald McDonald House to serve up to 25 families at once.

Today, more than 17,000 families have called the Albany Ronald McDonald House “home” and even more have benefited from the programs and services of the Ronald McDonald Family Room and Ronald McDonald Care Mobile. In January 2020, we launched the Hospitality a la Carte program at the Bernard & Millie Duker Children’s Hospital at Albany Med, extending resources and support even further for families with children in the hospital.

We continue to work closely with the global RMHC network, local healthcare providers, and countless community partners to meet the needs of children and their families. Your support makes all of this possible. We are grateful to all who’ve been part of our story thus far, and we hope you will play a part in our future. Click here to see how you can get involved!