Since first launching in the U.S. in 1970, the Shamrock Shake has built an almost cult-like following. Fans eagerly await its annual return to the menu for those magical few weeks leading up to the St. Patrick's Day holiday. But the beloved minty green treat has another legacy that even its most loyal fans may not know.
It all began with a little girl, a football team, and a visionary doctor. When Philadelphia Eagles tight end Fred Hill's 3-year-old daughter, Kim, was being treated for leukemia in 1974, his life changed. He and his wife, Fran, camped out on hospital benches and sat in cramped waiting rooms during Kim's three years of treatment. The Hills watched other parents and families of seriously ill children do the same thing. Many of the families had to travel long distances for their children to receive medical treatment and couldn't afford hotel rooms.
The Hills knew there had to be a solution. Fred rallied the support of his teammates to raise funds. Through Jim Murray, the Eagles' general manager, the team offered its support to Dr. Audrey Evans, head of the pediatric oncology unit at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Evans had long dreamed of a "home away from home" for families of children being treated at her hospital.
Murray called Don Tuckerman, a friend from the local McDonald's advertising agency. "What's your next promotion?" he asked. "St Patrick's Day," Tuckerman said. "Shamrock Shakes."
It was perfect: The milkshakes were green - the Eagles' color! With the support of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc and regional manager Ed Rensi, Tuckerman launched a week-long promotion around the Shamrock Shake, with all profits to be donated to the cause.
Enough funds were raised to help buy an old four-story, seven-bedroom house Evans had found near the hospital. It opened in 1974 as the first Ronald McDonald House.
The network of Houses grew quickly after that, offering families around the world a way to stay together in proximity to the hospital where their child was being treated, and be comfortable and cared for during their stay. Today, Ronald McDonald Houses serve more than 8,000 families each day around the world.
Now that's a reason to celebrate the return of the Shamrock Shake.