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California and the West

Kroc Gives $80 Million to Salvation Army

Charity: Donation from the widow of the McDonald's magnate is the group's largest and will fund a community center for San Diego's needy.


SAN DIEGO — Joan B. Kroc, philanthropist and major stockholder of the McDonald's restaurant chain, has donated $80 million to the Salvation Army, the largest gift in the group's 118-year history, officials announced Wednesday.

The money will be used to build a 12-acre community center to serve the poor and downtrodden of San Diego, La Mesa and Lemon Grove. The facility will be named for Kroc and her late husband, McDonald's magnate Ray Kroc.

In a rare public appearance, Kroc said the idea of building such a center began when former Mayor Maureen O'Connor took her on a tour of the poorer neighborhoods in America's Finest City, as it calls itself, "areas that I had never visited in the 23 years I've lived in San Diego."

"I was troubled with what I observed," Kroc said. "Particularly [for] the children. I realized that they desperately needed a safe gathering place."

Kroc, 70, noted that her husband, who died in 1984, was a supporter of the Salvation Army and used to stand watch at Christmastime in downtown San Diego ringing a bell and asking for donations for the group. He also made sizable donations to various causes.

"I remember when one of Ray's friends asked him why he was giving so much of his wealth away, he retorted, 'Well, I've never seen a Brinks truck follow a hearse, have you?' " Kroc said during a short ceremony at the site for the center.

She has continued that philanthropic tradition, with a $25-million donation to the University of San Diego for an institute dedicated to peace and nonviolence, $6 million to Notre Dame University, $60 million for Ronald McDonald houses for cancer-stricken children, and $18.5 million to the San Diego Hospice, among other gifts. The full extent of her giving may never be revealed; many of her donations are not made public.

In April 1997, Kroc--former owner of the San Diego Padres--was identified in the media as the anonymous donor who provided $15 million to the people of flood-ravaged Grand Forks, N.D.

The Salvation Army center will include a full-sized gymnasium, playing fields, ice skating rink, 500-seat auditorium, state-of-the-art computer-only library, aquatic center, classrooms, performing arts center and banquet hall. Priority will be given to services for families, including child care, nutrition for the elderly and family counseling.

Kroc's gift, the largest philanthropic contribution ever made in San Diego, will pay for the design, construction, maintenance, staffing and management. Construction at the now-unused site in eastern San Diego is set to begin in the spring and be completed by the end of 2000.

"The Salvation Army is deeply moved and inspired by Mrs. Kroc's generosity and caring," said Maj. Donald C. Bell, divisional commander.

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