Most people probably wouldn't recognize the late Joan Kroc's name. That's just the way she wanted it. Kroc was married to her husband Ray, founder of McDonalds, for 15 years, until his death in 1984. Not only did Ray Kroc leave his wife a fortune in the billions, but he also left her the San Diego Padres, which she eventually sold in 1990. Major League Baseball rejected her attempts to give the team to the city, stating their rules prohibited community ownership.
Joan Kroc died on October 13, 2003, after a short bout with brain cancer. Only after her death did the world learn how generous a woman she was. Kroc left $1.9 billion to various charities, most of them located in the San Diego area. This was more than enough to lead the Slate 60 most charitable Americans list in 2003.
The bulk of the money, $1.5 billion, went to the Salvation Army to build 24 community centers across the United States to strengthen communities and the people living within them. Other donations included $180 million to Ronald McDonald House Charities, $200 million to National Public Radio and several million each to the Universities of Notre Dame and San Diego. The money for the schools went to developing think tanks for world peace. Kroc was a proponent of peace and believed in conflict resolution as opposed to military conflicts such as the Iraq war.
Kroc grew up in Minneapolis and met Ray at the piano bar she played at in the Twin Cities. In his biography, Ray Kroc said that her blonde beauty was stunning. Unfortunately, both were married to other people. They wouldn't meet again until twelve years later; they began an affair that resulted in both divorcing their spouses and remarrying each other, all in the span of just six months. This was 1969. The relationship would survive until his death in 1984.
Joan Kroc started her philanthropic work in earnest in 1976 when she supported Operation Cork, a La Jolla, California, center for alcoholism education. The emphasis was on educating doctors about the best ways to treat alcoholics. It was felt that medical practitioners needed more in-depth training for this terrible disease. Today, this education is commonplace, even at the general practitioner level, because most medical schools routinely teach the curriculum.
The most interesting fact about Joan Kroc was her deep desire to help others on her own terms, not by sitting back and letting charities come to her. Kroc did her own research before donating funds to a cause. She was definitely hands on, and San Diego, as well as the rest of the country, are better for it.