History of the House

Keeping families close to each other and the care they need.

History of Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC)

The first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974 thanks to Dr. Audrey Evans, Director of the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital, Philadelphia Eagles’ player Fred Hill (whose daughter Kim had leukemia), Leonard Tose, owner of the Eagles, Jim Murray, Eagles general manager, and Ed Rensi, McDonald’s regional manager. The McDonald’s owner/operators in Philadelphia helped to make the vision of a “home-away-from-home” possible, donating proceeds from the sale of Shamrock Shakes.

As the number of Houses grew across the country, Ronald McDonald House Charities was founded to help support the Houses and other children’s programs. Today there are over 300 Ronald McDonald Houses in 36 different countries.

History of Mobile’s Ronald McDonald House

In the summer of 1992, ten-year-old Day Zimlich and his mom moved into the Ronald McDonald House of Boston. During the ensuing weeks, Day became the 3rd pediatric patient in the world to undergo an experimental treatment for his inoperable brain tumor. In spite of all the hospital procedures Day described his stay at the Ronald McDonald House as “the best vacation he ever had!” On the plane ride home he asked his mom to promise him that she would build a Ronald McDonald House in Mobile so that other children could have “fun” when they came to Mobile for medical treatments.

September 16, 1993:

David, Gray and Day Zimlich met with a man who had a similar dream, Jack Smith, owner/operator of numerous McDonald’s restaurants in Mobile. In a board room at the downtown Chamber of Commerce, a plan was formulated to bring the dreams of Day and Jack to fruition – a Ronald McDonald House was to be built in Mobile!

Contacts were made during the next year and groundwork was finally in place. Dr. Robert O. Harris worked with area hospitals getting necessary surveys completed; Mike Druhan, Esq. handled the legal work ensuring acquisition of a license to operate from the national Ronald McDonald House organization; Christopher Kern, Esq., drafted the bylaws; Judy Byrne, CPA, prepared and filed the necessary forms to establish our 501(c)3 status.

During this same time period, former football great, Kenny Stabler, and a group of his friends began hosting a golf tournament at the Grand Hotel with the intent of passing some of the proceeds on towards the building of a Ronald McDonald House. Robert Cappelletti, a McDonald’s owner/operator, served as the liaison to the House.

June 1996:

A group of women meet at a downtown restaurant with the intention of forming a board to raise funds to build the House.

August 1996:

Ronald McDonald House Charities granted a license to operate and build a Ronald McDonald House in Mobile, Alabama.
Ronald McDonald House Charities presents check for $25,000 in seed money.

Fall 1996:

Jim Barnes, local McDonald’s owner/operator, offered the use of his training room for the regularly scheduled planning sessions.
The widow of Jack Smith offered the use of his former office at the Lawrence and Lawrence Building on Bel Air Boulevard.

Spring 1997:

Board of Directors elect officers: Gray Zimlich, President; Betty Hope, Vice-President; Sally Woolley, Secretary; and Judy Byrnes, Treasurer

Summer 1997:

“Speaker’s Bureau” formed and board members actively pursue speaking opportunities to tell the story of Ronald McDonald House.
Granting organizations identified and the process of applying for grants has begun.
Donor’s lists developed and letter writing campaigns begun.

Fall 1997:

University of South Alabama offers choice of one of two lots on Walshwood at Springhill Avenue.
Board chooses to request both lots; USA Foundation accepts proposal.
Office Manager hired.
Kenny Stabler’s golf tournament presents first donation towards what would eventually amount to a total of over a quarter of a million dollars.

Spring 1998:

Architectural renditions by F.L. “Lanny” Russell, of Zito Russell Architects, P.C., selected as the conceptual design of the new Ronald McDonald House of Mobile.

Summer 1998:

100 year lease signed with University of South Alabama for two pieces of property located on the corner of Walshwood and Springhill Avenue.
Junior League of Mobile offers the use of their “little red house” as Ronald McDonald. House headquarters during construction.
E. Harmon “Andy” Anderson selected as the Volunteer Construction Manager of the new Ronald McDonald House.
John Hall hired to renovate the Junior League “little red house” into appropriate office space.

Fall 1998:

Capital Campaign goal set at $1.2 million.
Sue Martino agrees to chair Capital Campaign.

December 1998:

Ronald McDonald House office moved from Lawrence & Lawrence to Heather Street, behind Junior League Headquarters on Sage Avenue.
Executive Director, Brian Hartzell, hired.

Spring 1999:

Ground broken on 15,000 square foot, 12 bedroom Ronald McDonald House of Mobile.

January 2000:

Jim Murrary, one of the original founders of the first Ronald McDonald House of Philadelphia comes to Mobile as the guest speaker at Grand Opening Ceremonies January 26, 2000.
Jim Murrary dedicates House to the late Ross Druhan and to the young man who had a dream, Day Zimlich.

February 2000:

Welcomed first guests and have served almost 9,000 families primarily from southern Alabama and Mississippi but also families from as far away as Guatemala.
Families must live a minimum of 25 miles away to stay and families are asked to contribute $12 per night. This fee helps offset operating costs but no family is ever turned away for inability to pay. Over 50% of our guests are unable to pay all or a portion of the nightly fee.


Capital Campaign began to expand House from 12 to 38 guestrooms. Kenny Crow agreed to Chair the campaign with a goal to raise $2.7million.
F.L. “Lanny” Russell, of Zito Russell Architects, P.C., planned the Ronald McDonald House of Mobile expansion.

4th Quarter 2009

Construction began on Ronald McDonald House expansion

February 2011

Construction of the Ronald McDonald House expansion was completed and the first families stayed in the 1st floor of the expanded House.

May 2011

First families stayed on the 2nd floor of the expanded House.
May 3rd official grand opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for expanded Ronald McDonald House of Mobile.


USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital agrees to build Ronald McDonald Family Rooms on 3rd and 4th floors of their new expansion wing.

August 2014

Grand Opening Ribbon Cutting Ceremony held for new Ronald McDonald Family Rooms inside USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital on August 28th even though the new hospital wing is not yet open.

January 2014

Ronald McDonald Family Rooms open on January 13th inside USA Children’s & Women’s Hospital. The two Family Rooms located on the third and fourth floors serve as a haven of respite and hospitality to families whose children are in treatment. The Family Rooms are each approximately 500 square feet and include a television, sitting area, laundry facilities, shower, and restroom, which are open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

October 15, 2014

Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House and Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) as we know it today celebrates 40 years – with Houses around the world donning Ronald’s iconic red-and-white stripes in celebration.

November 2014

Ronald McDonald House Charities of Mobile hosts first annual ‘Board of Directors’ Reunion and ‘kicks off’ the 15th anniversary celebration of Mobile’s Ronald McDonald House.

January 26, 2015

15th Anniversary of the Dedication and Ribbon Cutting of Mobile’s Ronald McDonald House.

February 28, 2015

15th Anniversary of “Opening our Doors” to families at Mobile’s Ronald McDonald House.