Birth of a House

Class of ’74 | It was the first night of Homecoming, 2004. Three alumni from the Class of 1974—Peter L. Wolk C’74, Paul Ringel C’74, and E. Peter Wolf C’74—were sitting in the lobby of the Penn Sheraton Hotel at 36th and Chestnut streets, chilling out after a cheesesteak. Ringel was flipping through the pages of USA Today when he suddenly let out a yell. Wolf and Wolk jumped up and crowded together over his shoulder.

There, in a full-page advertisement by Ronald McDonald House Charities, was a story whose basic outline they already knew: that 30 years before, the world’s first Ronald McDonald House was born at 4032 Spruce Street. They knew because they had been living there just before the building was converted, as the group photo (top right), taken on the front steps in 1973 by Peter Wolf’s father, the late Franklin Wolf W’31, shows. (Peter is sitting front and center with his young nephew on his lap; Ringel is to the right of him.)

The next day the three walked over to 4032 and posed in front of their old apartment (bottom right). (For more photos and text, check out:

As for the Ronald McDonald House: In 1974, Kim Hill, the young daughter of Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill, was diagnosed with leukemia and taken to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for treatment. During that difficult time, the Hills often camped out on hospital chairs and benches, and saw other parents—many of whom had traveled considerable distances and couldn’t afford hotel rooms—doing the same thing. The Hills and Dr. Audrey Evans (then head of the pediatric oncology unit at CHOP, now an emeritus professor of pediatrics), “envisioned a place where the families of sick children could stay”—one in a nurturing environment close to the hospital. McDonald’s and a local ad agency created a St. Patrick’s Day promotion in which money from the sales of Shamrock Shakes “would go directly to purchase an old house near the hospital,” notes Hill in the ad. “The people of Philadelphia responded and soon our dream had an address: 4032 Spruce Street.” Kim, he reports, recently celebrated her 38th birthday.

The Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia has long outgrown that original Spruce Street home, and now occupies a big, handsome former mansion in the 3900 block of Chestnut Street (right across from the Gazette’s offices). The concept has grown a little, too: there are now some 240 Ronald McDonald Houses in 25 countries around the world.—S.H.

©2005 The Pennsylvania Gazette
Last modified 01/05/05

Alumni: Profiles : Events :
Notes : Obituaries

Colorful catalyst Ruth Lande Shuman
“250 in 5” x 4 = $1 million for scholarships
Before Ronald McDonald, it was their house
Trail blazer Hugh Willoughby
Hip veterinarian Gail Smith
Kid saver Cam Winton

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