The House That The Shamrock Shake Built When a former tight end's daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, the Philadelphia Eagles and McDonald's teamed up on a promotion that truly changed the world

By Julie Bacanskas

It was a day the Hill family never saw coming.

The year was 1969, and Eagles tight end Fred Hill had sustained a knee injury during a game against the Detroit Lions. Hill walked in the front door of his house in Cherry Hill, New Jersey with his leg in a cast and was greeted by his wife, Fran.

Philadelphia Eagles TE Fred Hill

The heartbreaking news she shared with him moments later made him forget all about his injury. Their 3-year-old daughter, Kim, had been diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia. Doctors estimated she had six months to live.

While the Hills dealt with every parent’s worst nightmare, they never could have imagined the miracle that would emerge from their daughter’s battle with cancer – a partnership between the Eagles and McDonald’s that led to the creation of the world’s first Ronald McDonald House right here in Philadelphia.

The original six-month timeline doctors gave Kim proved to be wrong. She spent three and a half years fighting and receiving treatment at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. It was a long, grueling process that weighed heavily on her and her family.

“My wife slept on a little couch by the bed and she wouldn’t leave,” Hill says now from his California home. “I don’t know how she did it, but my wife drove every day to St. Christopher’s for Kim’s chemotherapy. The protocol was five days a week you got injections – back then you had to do sticks every day because they didn’t have what they call a port where they can just leave it in – and spinal taps and bone marrows. The next week it would be just one day. Then the next week, a full regimen five days a week.”

As his daughter underwent treatment, Hill chose to retire from football in 1971. The Eagles, though, wanted to stay involved, and when Hill approached then-owner Leonard Tose about a fashion show fundraiser a year later, the team was all in.

That first event raised $10,000, all of which went to the Leukemia Society of America. Tose, who was the final attendee to leave that evening, challenged Hill to raise 10 times that amount and put then-general manager Jim Murray on the case.

The next step was visiting St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children to speak with Kim’s doctor, Dr. Lawrence Namain. What exactly did the hospital need, and how could the Eagles help?

“I think that started the whole McMiracle,” Murray explains today. “Dr. Namain said, ‘Well look at this place, Jimmy. It is 100 years old. We need everything.’ Then he paused, and I think this was the beginning. He said, ‘But there’s somebody with a greater need. There’s a woman. Her name is Dr. Audrey Evans. She’s the head of oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.’”

With that, Hill and Murray were off to speak with Dr. Evans. She had a long list of necessities because the hospital was relocating from 18th and Bainbridge Street to where it stands today at 34th and Civic Center Boulevard. The first Eagles donations went toward creating two positive pressure rooms, which are used for patients with compromised immune systems.

Evans then shared a vision that took the men by surprise.

It was a dream Evans had for years and one the Hills could certainly relate to. They couldn’t bear leaving their daughter’s side as she battled at St. Christopher’s. Where did families traveling across the country, or even across the world, stay as they tried to save their children's lives?

Murray quickly called a man he’d worked with before named Don Tuckerman. An employee at an advertising agency, Tuckerman's firm had the McDonald’s account.

Once on the phone, Murray said, “We’ve got a really interesting and beautiful project, and I just wanted to see if maybe you guys would be interested. What’s your next promotion for McDonald’s?”

It was a promotion to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day – the Shamrock Shake.

Murray then asked if McDonald’s would be willing to donate 25 cents of each Shamrock Shake to help pay for the house, and Tuckerman put him in contact with the company’s regional manager, Ed Rensi.

Rensi’s answer was simple.

“‘What if we give you all the money? Can we call it the Ronald McDonald House?’” Murray remembers Rensi asking. “I said, ‘If you give us all the money, you can call it anything you want to.’ That was the spark of the miracle right there.”

The very first Ronald McDonald House was purchased on Spruce Street in Philadelphia for $42,000, funds raised by the Shamrock Shake sales. It officially opened on October 15, 1974.

While the house only had seven rooms, it was a dream come true and the start of something much bigger.

“The Philadelphia Eagles started everything, and now there are 365 houses in 63 countries on six continents,” Hill says. “It’s unbelievable because they’re needed so badly. They’re all over the world, and it all started in Philadelphia.”

Kim Hill thankfully was able to see the impact her experience had on the world. She outlived her doctor’s original estimates by over 40 years before passing away in 2011 at the age of 44 from brain tumors her father says were caused by the radiation she received when she was 3.

“Kim said, ‘I didn’t like being sick, but in a way I’m kind of glad I did get sick because through all my suffering, a great thing has come from it,’” Hill says.

Today, the Eagles and the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House still work hand in hand through the Eagles Care partner program. Additionally, for one week each March, Philadelphia-area McDonald’s locations continue to donate a portion of the proceeds from every Shamrock Shake sold to the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House.

Kim Hill and the legacy she left behind continue to live on.

“It’s the spiritual Super Bowl of the Eagles. You can’t underestimate the power of prayer and good people,” Murray says. “I think it defines Philadelphia, defines the Eagles, and it defines how good people’s hearts are.

“All the people that were involved, they became part of the history of the house. Everybody likes statistics, but to me if you help one child that’s a miracle. This just shows that when people work together, they can change lives – not just change lives, but save lives.”

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