In 2003, Joan Kroc bequeathed $1.5 billion to The Salvation Army to fund the construction of 27 recreational centers in underserved neighborhoods across the nation.
Her vision is nearly fulfilled.
The first Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center opened in June 2002 in San Diego. It was the last one the philanthropist saw through completion before passing away in 2003.
It’s believed that former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor, a competitive swimmer in her youth, suggested to Kroc that swimming be a vital part of The Salvation Army’s recreational offerings. (The two had something in common: Both were benefactors with fast-food fortunes at their disposal — Kroc’s husband, Ray Kroc, was head of the McDonald’s empire and O’Connor’s was Jack in the Box founder Robert Peterson.)
O’Connor must have been persuasive. Nearly all Kroc Centers have swimming pools.
“It really has brought aquatics to many communities that don’t otherwise have access to those facilities,” says Steve Bireley, the organization’s Western territories coordinator who has the proud distinction of being the very first Kroc Center employee in the nation.
The 26th Kroc Center opened in Camden, N.J., last October. No. 27 is on the horizon.