Joan Kroc’s Legacy
“Just Who Was This Generous Woman?” asked a headline in the Spring 2004 issue. The answer? McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc. She died in October 2003 at age 75; in January came the blockbuster news that she had left at least $1.5 billion to The Salvation Army.
Joan, known as a “stealth philanthropist,” didn’t grow up wealthy, so she had a particular interest in helping the downtrodden. In 1998, she went on a driving tour of San Diego with the mayor and was deeply disturbed by the blight she saw in one east San Diego neighborhood.
“I was touched particularly by the children, as I realized that they desperately needed a safe gathering place—a place with facilities and trained professionals to nurture and develop their
social skills, art appreciation, and athletic potential.”
Months later, Joan began working with The Salvation Army to build the 12.5–acre Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center in east San Diego.
Just weeks before her death, Joan visited the center and liked what she saw—a revitalized neighborhood and a well–run operation, supported by her money ($92 million) as well as by additional funds raised by The Salvation Army.
Joan decided that upon her death, the Army would receive the largest share of her fortune, to be divided among the Army’s four U.S. territories. She set up the legacy so that half the money would be used to build 25 to 30 community centers. The other half would be in endowments to help support the centers.
Joan knew that this money would not be nearly enough to maintain the centers. The Army estimates that $40 to $70 million will be needed annually to support their operation. The Army spent some time “counting the cost” before accepting the gift.
Commissioner W. Todd Bassett, national commander at the time, said Joan was comfortable with the Army’s Christian emphasis.
“She fully understood the importance of the spiritual life of a person and knew that was integral to The Salvation Army,” Bassett said.
In the pages of Priority!, features about the new Kroc centers continued throughout the years. On the following posts are excerpts from some of those stories.