116: How the first-ever Kroc Center came to be with Lt. Colonels Cindy and Tim Foley
In our last episode, you heard from each of the seven Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Centers across the western U.S., from San Diego to Salem, Oregon, to Kapolei, Hawaii.
It was 20 years ago that the first Kroc Center opened in San Diego, California. The 12-acre, 132,000 square-foot facility was a realization of Joan Kroc’s dream for all people to have recreational, educational and cultural arts opportunities.
And just under a year before it opened, Tim and Cindy Foley were appointed its administrators, just as the foundation was being poured.
Today, Lt. Colonel Cindy Foley is Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army in the Northwest Division and Lt. Colonel Tim Foley is the Divisional Leader for Officer Development.
Back then, they were given the job to create the program and business structure—really, the template for what the Kroc Centers would become across the nation.
The Foleys are on the show today to give us a window into that year. To share the stories of working things out, what it was like to know Joan Kroc and how it felt to open the center on that day in June 2002.
Plus how the experience changed them and their ministry.
Show highlights include:
- The Foley’s story.
- What Joan Kroc wanted in the community center.
- How the Kroc Center operates.
- What Joan Kroc was like.
- What the Foleys remember from the dedication event in June 2002.
- How The Salvation Army was involved in Kroc’s life before she was promoted to Glory.
- What it means to the Foleys to know some 2 million visitors a year come into the 26 Kroc Centers across the country today.
- What we can learn from Joan Kroc.
Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
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Christin Thieme: Well, Lt. Colonels Tim and Cindy Foley, thank you so much for joining us on The Do Gooders Podcast today.
Cindy Foley: Thank you. We’re so happy to be here.
Christin Thieme: Yes, absolutely. Before we get into talking about the history of this massive Kroc donation and all that it’s meant to The Salvation Army, can you just give us a quick overview of some of the highlights of your story and what brings you to today?
Cindy Foley: Tim, you want to answer first?
Tim Foley: Sure. I was invited to attend The Salvation Army worship service in 1978 at what was the outpost, soon-to-be corps, of Concord, California. And I was given an opportunity after that worship service to come back the next week and teach Sunday School. And so I’m here today, and I’m finishing my 40th year as an officer and really haven’t looked back.
Christin Thieme: The next week? I love it.
Tim Foley: Yeah.
Cindy Foley: Great. And I met The Salvation Army in 1970 in Pendleton, Oregon, where the officers’ family moved into my neighborhood, and their girls were my age, and they showed an interest in my horse. And we kind of bonded over that. And as good officers’ kids, they invited me to church so they could get a prize. And I went, and I just kind of found a church home and my place and my calling in God’s kingdom and kind of learned the work of being an officer over those years in a very small corps in a small town. I felt called to be an officer when I was a teenager and went to college and went on to training school and have had a lot of wonderful ministry adventures over 37 years for me.
Christin Thieme: I love it. And one of those adventures for both of you, which I know we want to get into more today, is your experience with opening the very first Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in San Diego, California. So back in the late 1990s, Joan Kroc asked The Salvation Army to submit a proposal for a community center in San Diego. And I know you came on a little bit later. Can you share more about what was your role with opening this center? How were you involved?
Tim Foley: We were divisional youth secretaries in the newly founded Golden State Division at that time. And I can still recall when the gift was announced, the questions ran through my mind like, “Who in the world’s going to have to run that thing?”
Christin Thieme: That was your first mistake.
Tim Foley: Yeah. I had a long list of qualified officers that I thought that could do it, but that was something Cindy and I never imagined we would have that opportunity.
Cindy Foley: But it was really exciting. We moved to San Diego in July of 2001. And on the third day we were in town, the divisional leaders brought us into a room. They pointed to the artistic rendering of the Kroc Center on the wall. They were literally pouring the first foundation. So there was no buildings. They said, “There’s 350 volunteers who meet every month in about 16 standing committees. They’ve been gathering information on programs from ice arenas to art programs to gyms, and we need you to work with them. And this is what we’re building. We’re not interested in your ideas or suggestions because it would cost money. You need to take what we’re building. You need to figure out how we can do that. You need to incorporate the mission of The Salvation Army and Joan Kroc. And you have to open on June 19, 2022, because the General’s coming.”
So with no employees and an awesome but kind of overwhelming task in front of us, we just jumped in with these incredible volunteers who were already four years into a five-year journey, developing the programs and even adding thought to the design of the building. And we had an office across the street. And a few months before we opened, we rented an old pool hall, a billiard hall, and put about 35 employees into what will ultimately be…Was a little over 300 employees by the time we left.
Tim Foley: I think part of, for us, is that we’ve always been as a couple, we’ve always just been like, “Well, we’ll figure it out. Let’s jump in and go.” Even to this day, we don’t like to sit around and talk about at length what the problems are but try to find what the solutions are supposed to be. And that’s kind of mixed with logic and with faith and with knowledge and compassion, and we just moved forward. And that was an incredible ride of faith.
If I scroll back a little bit, we often joke about the fact that neither Cindy or myself, we weren’t present for the lecture on how to open and run an ice arena at the training college when we were cadets. We were just in a situation where it was hope that we would just make it happen in some way. And of course it opened, and it’s functioning and a great ministry some 20 years later.
But there was lots and lots of struggles along the way. I had just completed a master’s degree in theology. If I knew I was going to have that appointment, I wonder, “Well, maybe an MBA or something like that might have helped.” But somehow God used all of that. And I think part of it was our willingness to just kind of jump in and kind of be open, be teachable. And God brought all the right people and all the right things into position at the right time.
Cindy Foley: Yeah. And there were some unique challenges. Typically, when The Salvation Army opens a recreation center, a Red Shield Center or a Boys and Girls Club or a gym program in a corps, there’s not the large financial exposure. So in this case it’s 200,000 square feet of program space on twelve and a half acres. And a lot of the costs were much different. For instance, the ice arena back then, 20 years ago, cost $3,000 a day to operate whether a single person walked in or not. And Joan’s mission, of course, which I’m sure we’ll get into, requires high-quality facilities, high-quality instruction.
So it’s really offering the level of classes and facility that she would’ve wanted her daughter and granddaughters to enjoy, but she wanted that for everyone. So we needed to make a way of what I call program service being ministry. She wanted it to be Christ-centered. She wanted it to also be available to meet the spiritual needs for people who were interested in exploring that. But she wanted to make arts and recreation available to everybody at the same standard. And we needed to find a way to pay for that because her endowment really covers… It keeps the lights on, it keeps the pool warm, the facilities would run, and you would have maybe executive staff.
But if we were going to have a teacher or a coach or a lifeguard who would actually provide instruction and provide service, we needed to raise that dollar either through a donor dollar or through a program service fee. So in that first year I think the first budget was about $4.2 million. By the next year we had already grown to $6.4 million. By the time we left, it was nearly $11 million. So we needed to raise over $8 million a year to run the facility.
Christin Thieme: Wow. And how did you go about that? I mean, can you give us a little bit of some insight into how does the Kroc Center operate financially?
Cindy Foley: So every one is different, and the territories also differ slightly how they handle it. But in the Western Territory, what Joan originally gave was equal endowment dollar to equal construction. And the construction dollars, obviously, nationally have all been spent. There’s 26 centers. But in the West, we also decided that we needed to have deferred maintenance money so the facilities could be kept at this high-quality, pristine condition for the entire lifespan of the facility. And that’s quite expensive.
So the West took some money that was left over after our centers were built and actually established a fund. And so now we can continue to use those deferred maintenance dollars to keep the facilities up. But in general, what it meant was opening 10 independent, very diverse businesses all at the same time. And they all work differently. So the ice arena, which was probably the scariest to us at the time, and San Diego is the only Kroc Center that has an ice arena. I’m almost positive it’s the only Salvation Army ice sheet in the entire world.
And it’s what scared us the most because no for-profit ice arena would’ve been built in that neighborhood. We didn’t have a high enough economic—our ethnicity demographics don’t meet who’s normally interested in the sport. And of course, we were supposed to be offering this to everybody and actually even overcoming obstacles like ethnicity to show people who might be interested in that or even expose people to it to see if they might be interested. So what you need in that one, which at the time was never less than 500 kids in Learn to Skate. And at the height of the season, it needs to be over 750 and as many in hockey as we can. And because we have only one ice sheet, that was about 150 youth and about 150 adults.
And then we would also make room for Special Olympics and other kind of groups whenever we could plus public skate. So every entity has its own business plan in its own way in which you need to fund that. So the pools and the gym and a library need a lot more endowment support than, fortunately, the ice arena and day camp did, which those actually are self-supporting.
So everything was slightly different as well as we provided traditional activities that The Salvation Army typically would like social services, meeting space, access to the public. And because her gift was such high profile in the general San Diego County area, people kind of mistakenly thought it would all be for free. And much of The Salvation Army world assumed we would be making it available either free or it would be that typical, “Oh, it costs $5 to be a member a year.”
And we couldn’t do that. And we didn’t get pushback from Salvation Army administration, who realized there’s just some realities of operating a facility this size, but a lot of pushback from The Salvation Army on a whole that was just astounded. Like, “What do you mean you would be open on a Sunday afternoon?” Well, because 25% of an ice arena income is made on Sunday and there was no choice. But what we also saw is instead of seeing that as a challenge, what an opportunity that we could have people at The Salvation Army because it’s all the corps and it’s all the center. So if we’re getting people who regularly come to The Salvation Army on a Sunday or on a Wednesday night when it’s maybe Bible study night, aren’t we that much more likely to sometimes get them to say, “Hey, go work out and join us for Sunday School or join us for the midweek Family Supper Club dinner where we talk about faith and family and things.”
And it really did work. The idea is will a person really go from the treadmill to the altar? And I can tell you, yes, they could. And in our case, from the treadmill to the altar to becoming believers who are active in the center and active in their own faith life, and within just a few years the Western Territory had 10 cadets who became officers that came directly from Kroc Centers. And that was just in those first couple of years. So looking at it from a business perspective, from a program perspective, how do we get people to know about our programs? I mean, just general marketing as well as in the schools, right? Located closely to the center, they spoke 26 languages.
One of the highest ones was our general Rolando neighborhood was a primary spot where the INS would bring legal immigrants from East Africa. If you’re from East Africa, you’re not looking for a pool and swimming lessons in the summer. You don’t really know anybody in your family who’s ever learned to swim. That’s not a value, taking swimming lessons. But here we have three pools, and they’re Olympic quality. And we want kids to be safe. We want kids to be able to explore that and have that opportunity. So learning to work with schools and ethnic groups and government groups and neighbors and others to make sure that everybody felt they were safe. It’s a safe place for you. Even if you don’t speak our language, even if this is not something that your family would typically be involved in like the symphony or ice skating or theater or anything.
We taught PE to kids at the Muslim charter school. What an opportunity to have kids from the Muslim charter school, girls who will never experience the ability to choose the same way that my girls did. And over time, by the time we left, those girls were allowed to get in the pool. Now they were very covered up and they had female lifeguards, but that was a huge thing. They were at God’s house, and they had the chance to be exposed to Christianity and to our facilities.
So there was so many things to go through, but basically our job was here’s the shell we’re building you, figure out the staffing structure, figure out the budgets, figure out the program. And by the way, people who live in the neighborhood needed to have a little bit more incentive and access. There was lots of promises made.
And so we all just jumped in and hired some incredible staff along the way who brought their expertise and were drawn to the mission. The Kroc Center really drew people in. Incredible advisory board, and by the skin of our teeth, and I’m not kidding you. We got legal permission to use that pool less than 24 hours before we opened the door to the public. We worked it out, and within four weeks we had 4,000 members. At six weeks we had 6,000 members. And because the fitness area is smaller in San Diego than other centers, they top out membership-wise around 8,000. But we averaged about 1,200 users a day the first year. And by the time we left after four years of operation, we average 2,700 users a day. Some 1.2 million people coming to one Salvation Army center in the course of a year.
Tim Foley: I think it’s important to note because when you look at a Kroc Center and you talk about finances and structure and it’s big and everything else like that. In the bare bones foundation of the Kroc Center, we did the same things with the Kroc Center what we did with our after-school program when we were young lieutenants in Oxnard. So the principles of how we ran the Kroc Center, of course, they’re grounded in very simple, basic Salvation Army management. You don’t spend what you don’t have. You treat people with respect. We promote the Golden Rule. The officers don’t have to come in and be the experts of everything.
Our first employee that we had the privilege of hiring is still with us today. And you know him as Mr. Steve Bireley. He was our first employee. And we believe he’s a godsend to The Salvation Army and continues this day in his role even at THQ. But there were a lot of great people. There were a lot of volunteers on the advisory board, advisory council, that had lots of wisdom and lots of pushback. There was a lot of challenges of like how’s The Salvation Army going to run this? And we were kind of having to, I don’t want to say, “make things up on the fly,” but it was not structured in the beginning. There was no primer for us to follow. And Cindy and I, we’re not church planners. We’ve been pastors and program people. And I think we were pretty good with finances over the years. And we just kind of went in there.
I could still recall, I think it was, then it was Major Walter Fuge who came in and said, “This is just an incredible franchise for Jesus.” And with him, and I think it was John Waterton, a few other folks helped us with the chart of accounts and the backbone of the finances of the place. Putting that all together was a little bit challenging and overwhelming. At the same time, the economy…We were going through 9/11. We went through a recession. There was questions on how the portfolio was being handled. And we were told specifically we could never call Joan Kroc and talk to her directly, though Joan was probably one of our biggest fans and would call us often.
Christin Thieme: She solved that by calling you.
Tim Foley: She did. She’d call, and she’d talk to me for a little bit and then say, “Okay, now I really want to talk to Cindy.” I think for me reflecting back 20 years later, one of the biggest lessons is that yes, we had this big amount of money, and it was kind of big and splashy and all that sort of thing. But we really committed to very simple biblical and management principles that we still believe in.
And we still believe every Salvation Army operation, whether it’s a corps, whether it’s an institution, whether it’s even big administration like the HQ, there are just simple values from Hudson Taylor many years ago, who said… The great missionary to China, he said, “If God’s work is done God’s way, God’s obligated to support his work.” Well, we had to find out what was God’s way. What was the new methodology in what was starting to be more of a post-Christian world? And post-modernity was starting to kind of encompass the Church a lot more in that period. And now you see where we’re at now. So there was a lot of philosophical, a lot of foundational sort of things that went back to it. And there’s a lot of stories that will probably never be told of some of the great people with the great advice and the great decisions that were made in that period.
Christin Thieme: It’s amazing how much had to be done and such big decisions, like you said, in such a short amount of time for you guys with just a year before opening and how much intention really had to go into all of that.
Tim Foley: You know, when we first got there, we were like, “Okay, where do we start?” And it was Cindy and myself. There was the project office, and they were responsible to take care of the construction. And Cindy already alluded to it. Nobody wanted our ideas of how to change things. But we kind of just looked across the street, and then we saw the ice arena going up. And so we said, “Well, let’s start there.” And then we started working out our org charts and trying to figure out and putting together… I don’t even know, Cindy, how many job descriptions did we end up writing and putting together?
Cindy Foley: In total, it was probably about 150.
Tim Foley: So we just had to jump in and start. And as Cindy alluded to it, there was just some incredible people that God brought to us that we were so grateful. And I think The Salvation Army, and I think the Kroc world, should be paying tribute to a lot of those folks because they were right alongside with us pioneering this work. And we’re incredibly and humbly grateful for their help.
Christin Thieme: Yeah. And at the time, of course, you had no idea what was to come in this massive, notable gift from Joan Kroc that would eventually establish today’s 26 centers. Really she was known as more of a stealth philanthropist at the time. I even read a story about a time she visited a flood-ravaged part of the Midwest, and she made a financial gift to every member of the community to help people get back on their feet. And the only reason anybody knew that it was her is that somebody noticed the call letters on her private jet and was able to determine the owner. So what was she like? You guys knew her. What was she like?
Cindy Foley: I always kind of referred to her as it was like meeting the great aunt that you never knew you who had. So she lived in a privileged world. She worked very hard but she had incredible advisors. But they would tell us many stories like that one where late at night she would see a news story. Once there was a mom with some kids that had a horrific car accident in a minivan in Texas, and she saw it on the news. And she called her PR director and said, “I just saw this thing. Find that woman and give her $10,000.” So she did many, many things over the years. She was also a huge philanthropist to the San Diego Zoo, to hospice, to humane societies and established two Peace Centers. Their initial gift was $50 million each in University of San Diego and at Notre Dame. And, of course, many of these organizations also benefited from her estate, eventually, as well as numerous gifts in the course of her life. So she did small things.
If you look at her giving history to The Salvation Army, she and her husband Ray some years gave as little as $250. And then a couple of years she paid for the entire Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners that were served in downtown San Diego, which cost about $20,000. So this gift was quite unusual. And when she called up, literally had done her homework, but called up The Salvation Army because she had this idea for a facility that kind of came to her through her friend who was the mayor of San Diego, Maureen O’Connor. She called The Salvation Army and said, “I’d like to build a facility with you in arts education recreation. And I want it to have spiritual programming. Give me some ideas.”
And The Salvation Army pitched, I think it’s a $2 million, a $10 million, and a $20 million facility. And you kind of do the $20 million to make the $10 million look better. It’s pretty much what they thought she would do. They showed her some images, some ideas to encompass those four areas. And she says, “Oh, I like it.” And they say, “Oh, well, which one do you like?” “Oh, no, I like all of it.”
And then as they moved forward they determined, initially they thought it would cost about $40 million to build what she envisioned. It ended up costing $57 million. And then in the few years we operated the center, basically she passed away about a year and a half after we opened. She had given us a couple smaller gifts to establish the scholarship fund and a few other things. So she gave San Diego alone $94 million. But even in that short period of time, she was always talking about more. So she was in discussions to do one in Chicago at the time of her death. And then, of course, when she received a terminal diagnosis and they told her she would have about six weeks to live, obviously she changed her estate and in the end gave what ended up being $1.7 billion to build more Kroc Centers around the country.
Tim Foley: I recall the first time we met her. There was a lunch with the divisional leaders, and the project director, and Cindy and I. And I was seated on her right side. And then Cindy alluded to it that she was like an aunt. Great conversation. She turned to the divisional commander at the time and said, “Well, tell me what The Salvation Army’s position is on stem cell research.” And you’re like, “Whoa, I’m glad she asked him that question not me.” But one of the funny things was, I think that lunch, did it go almost three hours, Cindy? I think it was.
Cindy Foley: It did. And that was the lunch. Besides we did spend a lot of time talking about stem cells, but talking about the center and because literally they were just barely pouring cement back then. And she already felt like it should have been done. I mean, she wished it could have moved so much quicker. But a couple really key conversations happened that day, besides getting to know us and getting to know our plans, sharing dessert with Tim, there was a lot of funny things.
Tim Foley: She asked if she could have some of my dessert. And I’m like, “I don’t like people eating off my plate.” So what I’m thinking, “She’s a Fortune 500 person. Okay, might as well.”
Cindy Foley: Yeah. We had a lot of fun. But one thing people will often ask us, “Was Joan Kroc a believer? Did she have a personal faith?” And so it actually came up at that the very first time we met her. We were all just chatting and just having a really good time talking about the center and life and our background and things that she liked. And I think the reason our faith kind of came up is she said, “Well, I always hesitate to call myself a Christian because I don’t actually belong to any one particular church.” And if you’ll know, she’s given a lot of money to spiritual causes, probably the most to the Catholic church in a variety of projects. But she said, “I don’t belong. So I hate to ever use that label for myself. But you know, I believe Jesus Christ forgave me for my sins, and I try to live to love and serve him every day. I’ve never really made a public declaration of faith. So I don’t think I should call myself a Christian.”
Cindy Foley: And the divisional leader at the time, now Commissioner Don Bell, said, “Joan, I think you just did.” And so she chose The Salvation Army for this project because we’re Christians and because she knew we would not only… She says, “You’re the most efficient organization that I’ve ever seen, and you guys can wring more out of a nickel than anybody I’ve ever met.” But she said, “I know that you want to meet the needs of the whole person. So we might be giving them a swimming pool and a chance to check out a library book or have drama lessons or a skateboard park, but if somebody has a need, and they want someone to pray for them or they want to ask a fundamental question about God or have pastoral support, I know that you will do that. And that’s why I want to work with The Salvation Army.”
Christin Thieme: I love it. So you were given the specific date to open the center, and you made it happen. And Joan Kroc spoke at the dedication of the Kroc Center in 2002. And the General of The Salvation Army, the international leader, was there for that event. What do you remember from that event? What was that day like?
Cindy Foley: Well, there was a lot of great things. There was a lot of people. So a little bit of funny part was we mailed out a post card to 14,000 of our closest neighbors to the center saying, “We’re going to have a dedication.” Obviously, you didn’t have to reserve a spot and everybody wants it to be successful, right? Every network came. We had eight different, I believe, television cameras, a whole dais for press. It’s going to be in the gym. So you want it to look full, but how many people will really come on a Wednesday morning at 11? So we set up 800 chairs thinking and figuring maybe 600 will come. We had 50 trained tour guides that were ready to take people on tours of the center right after. And some ridiculous person named Cindy Foley thought we should open the same day.
So we dedicated at 11, opened at 3, but we didn’t have 600 or 800 people. We had 1,100 people and 800 chairs. So about 150 of those people looked through the windows. And those series of tours started immediately, not after the dedication. And we had three great guests. Joan Kroc, of course, General John Gowans. But we also had Fred Rogers from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. And it was an incredible day.
Joan didn’t often speak publicly, and she agreed to speak that day. And she was incredible just talking about her mission. But also, of course, she’s thanking the Army and just talking about her excitement. And we had school children there to do things and give her things. It was great. But really I think the epic…And the General spoke well. General Gowans is an incredible speaker.
But I think the killer moment of the day was Fred Rogers. And he got up, and divisional headquarters had prepared for him a zipper sweater like he wore on television, a blue zipper sweater with a shield on it. So he got up, he took off his suit, kept his shoes on, took off his suit jacket, and put on The Salvation Army sweater and zipped it up. And 1,100 people rose to their feet and gave a standing ovation. That was the first standing ovation of the day.
Then about the third sentence he said was, he says, “Society’s answer to rising violence and racial tensions is to build more prisons. Joan Kroc’s answer is to build more swimming pools.” And 1,100 people rose to their feet to give a standing ovation. And he got one more before he was done. It was just an incredible day where literally the neighborhood, and it picked up on news stations all around the world, celebrated the fact that there’s many ways to meet human need and to give opportunity and to develop potential in young people, but really in people of all ages, and providing high-quality facilities and instruction for people in arts education recreation and the spiritual needs of the community is maybe the most successful way to address those.
Tim Foley: On a personal level, something that I’ll always remember and cherish was before the dedication service, we got to give Mr. Rogers a personal tour. And then there was this press conference with Joan and Fred, and I had to facilitate questions from the press. It was kind of interesting. But I’ll always remember being in his presence, a very godly, man. You know when you’re in the presence of somebody who really knows God. And I’ll always remember when he said he just so overwhelmed with the center and with Joan’s gift. And he said, “I will pray for you and Cindy.” And he wrote a personal note to us afterward that we got. So when you have Mr. Fred Rogers praying for you, and I believe his prayers were answered, and his love for Joan Kroc. Because even at that time he was diagnosed with cancer, and he was not letting people know that he was near the end of his own life.
But there was a lot of stress with this whole center. There was a lot of challenges for us. And Cindy and I were working a lot of things out on so many different levels. But that moment for me was a signature moment of, I guess, resolve, even to this day to realize that. Cause I think sometimes we in The Salvation Army don’t understand the capacity, the power of the brand, how people view this organization with great respect and admiration. And when you have people like Fred Rogers or a Joan Kroc that believe in you know, that can carry you for decades. And it still even does to this day.
Christin Thieme: Yeah. What an incredible thing to be part of. So that was the dedication day. And then the center opened. And it wasn’t terribly long after that that Joan Kroc passed away and left $1.5 billion to The Salvation Army to build so many more of these centers. How was The Salvation Army involved in her life before she died?
Cindy Foley: So she told us a story that she grew up in Minneapolis to probably a lower-middle-class family and talked about having to work very hard. Her parents provided her with piano lessons, and she realized that was a sacrifice for her parents to make that possible. So she took that seriously, and she learned to work hard and that if you work hard and pursue something, you can develop your potential and achieve greatness in that area. But she grew up…Not only her parents but her grandparents talked about The Salvation Army helping them. So when her grandparents were living through the Depression, they fell upon hard times. And one day a literal Christmas basket showed up on the door. And in those days The Salvation Army would gather probably a few small, simple presents, some food, and a couple of treats, and a literal basket would be left on your doorstep because it was known that your family was in need of support.
So her grandparents always taught her mother, and then she was taught, you never pass a kettle without putting something in it. And so she always had that respect for The Salvation Army. And then her husband, Ray Kroc, had become aware of The Salvation Army when he lived in Chicago. And he was a very active member of Kiwanis for the entirety of his life. So he became a bell ringer in Chicago and would always do that. And then when they moved to San Diego, when he bought the San Diego Padre’s baseball team, he just quickly became involved with the Army as a donor and a bell ringer. And there’s photos that he used to ring the bell every year with Orville Redenbacher down at Holiday Village in San Diego. So he always thought highly of the Army, thought we were efficient and effective, and believed in what we were doing and that we were the smart choice, the best choice for him to make a difference in the community.
So besides other things they supported, they had that interaction. Obviously that grew with the Kroc Center project, and Joan was able to meet. She attended Commissioner’s Conference gathering before where she met leaders from across the United States. She became very close to the territorial commander of the West at the time and others. And we always kind of joked that obviously she would rave about Salvation Army officers and their commitment to serve and the simplicity of our faith and our lifestyle. So there was a lot of respect. And once we opened, she would be a frequent visitor. She would bring friends and relatives by. She hated people to make a fuss of her. So she would never tell us. So you know how that is when your biggest donor will never give you notice that she’s popping by to show off.
And so she would just pop up. In those days, the original design, there was actually gates that you had to go through. So you either had to pay your program service fee or show your membership card or something. And we made a huge mistake. We should have given her a membership card, and she should have been like number one, right? It should have been a special card. But we didn’t think of it. And one day she even came to the center, and we were so overwhelmed with visitors and members and the general public that we could never actually use the gates and things that they designed. There was just too many people. So a volunteer would actually help you when you came in.
And so she stopped by unannounced one day with about seven of her relatives. And she was just here to give them a tour. And she said to the volunteer, “Oh, I’m Joan Kroc, and I’m just coming to tour.” And the volunteer was about 84. She was an incredible volunteer, but she misheard Mrs. Kroc. And she said to Mrs. Kroc, “Oh, Mrs. Kroc doesn’t live here. This is just the Joan Kroc Center.” And Mrs. Kroc said, “Oh no, I am Joan Kroc, and I’m here to tour the center.” And fortunately, she finally let her in. And then someone quickly called and said, “Mrs. Kroc is here.” And we were all able to come.
But, again, we were open about a year and a half. And the art and education buildings were just open six months before, almost a year before she died, but about six months before she became ill. So she would try to pop in. We had an incredible celebration concert with Tony Bennett that she was involved in. But she would just pop in. She loved to see how we had a figure skater that quickly became nationally ranked after about 22 months of skating. And she would want to come and see him skate and things like that. So she was really involved. And her granddaughter worked for us in the fitness center. So she did love to come by. But she really made some deep relationships with various Salvation Army leaders that made a big impact upon her life.
Tim Foley: I think also she was really attracted to the smart women in The Salvation Army. And at the time we had Commissioner Linda Bond and Cindy that she just gravitated to these two women. And I think that’s kind of like a testimony, too, to maybe a little bit of a shift. We even split our duties. I was originally the administrator, and Cindy was the assistant administrator. But we started working within our own specific wheelhouses of gifting and passion and things like that.
But Joan was intrigued with the Army. She really appreciated the integrity. She knew that we were not perfect by any means, but she believed in the organization. And I think the testimony of her just changing near the end of her life is incredibly significant of that trust.
And actually it’s kind of like a personal mission of Cindy and myself while we still have breath to keep Joan’s vision alive within these Kroc Centers and not to short change it and also to cast the vision that we believe there are other people out there that want to do what Joan Kroc did. And, I mean, I’ve been asked the question “Wasn’t it a mistake to take Joan Kroc’s money?” which is the most foolish question that I’ve ever heard in my life. And I’ve heard it several times. Certainly was not a mistake.
She was honoring the work and the legacy of The Salvation Army and believing in what it is that we do, believed in our message, believed that we would do what we said we would do with the gift. And we’re just so grateful that she picked up the phone and called DHQ in San Diego and Sierra del Mar at the time. And that started a whole snowball of conversations and discussions and intrigue and everything else to this day within these Kroc Centers.
Christin Thieme: Yeah. And today, like we’ve said, there are 26 Kroc Centers across the United States. So how does it feel to both of you after really creating the template for what would become the Kroc Center—how do you feel today knowing millions of people come into these centers and in contact with The Salvation Army every day in this way?
Cindy Foley: Well, I think I’ve been forever changed as a person because of this. When you kind of ask about her involvement, one of the incredible things happened. One of the last times she actually was able to leave her home, she came to the center. We didn’t know that she was ill, but she knew she was actually probably already past the time the doctor had initially given her. But she wanted to come to center one more time. That’s how important the San Diego center was to her. And she wanted to see the kids skating.
And as she was making her final arrangements, she had decided to give us another gift. And of course in Joan Kroc style, she had a five-ton bronze sculpture at her home in her yard. And it’s a first casting of a very famous sculpture, a Henry Moore sculpture. And it’s very large. And she decided, because again, in her mind, if it wasn’t enough to build a $57 million facility, to give $94 million in total just to one location to help people in these areas with instruction, with quality facility, her vision encompassed if it’s not enough to show you about art and to teach you about art, you also need art in your neighborhood.
So she said, “Let’s move this from my yard to yours.” So with a truck and a crane, we put this in this just incredible kind of secret garden we had behind the library that all now looks like it was built for it because she wanted kids to be able to see art and touch it and experience it and to inspire them and to inspire the artists, again, in kids or adults or seniors. Young kids would play with it and see it. Some of our art students in elementary school and middle school would study it and learn about it. Seniors would have a book and sit on the patio and kind of look at it.
And so that’s kind of part of her vision is being able to provide opportunity and potential. And she wanted that to go, again, across the country—opportunity to try something and see if you might like it. And she really felt like the biggest obstacle people had to opportunity was not finances, which is what most of us think, but it was actually having a facility and instruction and equipment close enough to you where you could get to it and try something and see if you might like it or discover that you are really good at it. And quality to support the development of your full potential, even if that meant Olympic or professional capability.
And she realized that not every child who learned to ice skate or every senior who participated in a drama performance is going to end up being a professional. But she wanted it to, if it wasn’t going to become your profession, you could become proficient enough. Then it might be the passion of your life. And that’s probably one of the ways in which the Kroc Center experience and being involved with Joan changed me the most. I really feel that when God looks down at each one of us, I think we all know he doesn’t see skin color or body shape or anything like that. But what he does know that we don’t is he knows all the gifts and talents that he already gave us. And most of us will live our whole lives and not ever discover all the gifts God gave us.
And I think she realized that. I feel like she’s the biggest dreamer I ever met. And I put her right up there with God and on a good day, who has the bigger imagination? But Joan thought so much of people. She thought so much of The Salvation Army that she wanted to do all she could to make sure every one of us could have the opportunity to discover the gifts and talents God gave us and to pursue that. And pursuing that also means pursuing a relationship with God because you’re learning about the Creator and how He designed you and what place you have in the world.
So whether, here I’m now in my office at Divisional Headquarters in Seattle. So whether I’m traveling the Northwest Division and I’m at a corps or I’m at the Coeur d’Alene Kroc Center or Spokane or Anacortes, it doesn’t matter the size of the corps you have or your camp or your social-service institution. What matters is that each one of us are committed personally to discovering our gifts and talents and letting God use us to the utmost, not of our potential but of his. And then making sure through our programs, through our relationships that we’re that same dreamer, that same bridge builder for other people. So her legacy is not just in the Kroc Centers. Her legacy is that people should dream big, should reach out to God and let God develop their full potential.
Tim Foley: Someone said to me, it was probably a couple years ago. They said, “Hey, Tim, you and Cindy are really the godfather and godmother of Kroc Centers.” And I thought they’re kind of joking a little bit. But I thought, “We, along with the team, kind of gave birth to this whole new ministry opportunity for The Salvation Army.” At one point I was thinking, “Oh, there’s no way anybody else could ever run this operation.” And God says, “Yeah, well, try thinking again.”
And we left there in 2006, and we had the opportunity to go to…I went to the training college, and Cindy went to THQ, and eventually Cindy was very instrumental in helping get the Kroc Centers established in the other territories. And we had this incredible influx of people to the training college, over 300 plus cadets. During that time, there were so many different lessons that we learned, not only in management of the Kroc Center but in general, in ministry in general. So God used us, and he’s still using us. It’s not power, but it’s influence. And it’s reminding people, as Cindy was saying, to dream and to innovate.
We used to go by the three Is—It was imagine, innovate, and inspire. And really that was kind of like what was in William Booth that started the Army. It’s very satisfying looking back and know. We’re so thrilled with what’s happening with Kroc Centers and spinoffs where officers kind of caught that vision. And as I said earlier, we just really believe in some of the fundamental facts of the Kroc Center. Principles of the Kroc Center can run in all of our corps operations.
And I’ll never forget when I had a conversation with then-Commissioner Bond. I said, “Commissioner, I don’t understand. I have a master’s in theology. I would rather study the ontological argument or read Karl Barth and dig into John Wesley or whatever then managing this sort of thing. Why should a theologian be at the helm of this?” And she said, “To prevent mission drift, Tim.” She said, “It’s very easy for us to lose focus in these big operations and also in the small operations. We forget what our mission is.”
And that really kind of sunk into my heart at that point.
And there was a shift that was going on between Cindy and myself in who was going to do what once we were kind of fully open. And I turned into kind of more of a teaching, a pastoral role, specifically with the staff and with the management team at that time. And I think it was very crucial timing for us because these institutions can become just that. They can become an institution where we forget what the foundation is. And Jesus Christ is the same today, yesterday, and forever. And For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. And we thank God for the ministry that we see in Kroc Centers across the nation. We were blessed to be in national headquarters for three years. I think, Cindy, you visited more Kroc Centers than I think. I’m at 16 or 17. What are you at?
Cindy Foley: I think I’m a few over 20.
Tim Foley: Something like that.
Cindy Foley: It’s definitely been an incredible thing. You know, Tim and I are so proud of the centers, of the officers and board members and staff that are continuing to grow and expand her vision. But I did want to share an important conversation that Joan had with us. Again, it was on that last visit when, about 10 days before she died, she wanted to see the ice skater. She wanted to see this incredible sculpture and see how it would become part of the center. And on that day, she kind of tugged me down onto my knees beside her wheelchair. And she said two things that stay with me today and literally drive my ministry. She said, “First, Cindy, I want to tell you what the San Diego Kroc Center has come to mean to San Diego is beyond my wildest dreams.” And then secondly, she said, “I want my gift to demonstrate to the world, my level of trust in The Salvation Army.”
And I, of course, thought she was talking about the $94 million that she had already given us, the trust she’d given us with the community and with these facilities and the trust to make her dream into a tangible reality, having no idea that in about three weeks we would hear that she had changed her estate and that $1.7 billion would be going. It’s still the single largest donation to a nonprofit where a donor didn’t give to establish their own foundation. So her generosity may, at least so far, not be beaten by anybody. But definitely her legacy, and the legacy of Kroc Centers, and the legacy of The Salvation Army is to realize that we need to dream big because God, the Creator the world, has incredible dreams for us.
And we all have a place in that world and in his kingdom, and we all have our part to play. So I hope we’ll all live our lives, whether we’re parents or officers or professionals, and dream big and realize that there’s incredible gifts within us and pursuing opportunity for all people. And finding ways to help people develop their full potential from the inside out is really our mission on the earth.
Christin Thieme: I think that is the perfect place to leave it. So, Colonels, thank you so much for sharing. Thank you for giving us some insight into those early days and all the fun that you had in establishing first Kroc Center. And thank you for paving the way, really, for all the Kroc Centers across the country.
Cindy Foley: Excellent. Well, thank you. We love to talk about it. It’s great days. And I still celebrate when I hear how they’re doing around the country and love the fact that we have one in our own division. So every once in a while they let me come and play with them.
Tim Foley: Thanks for having us.
- Read more about how the Kroc Center Ice Arena is impacting the San Diego community.
- Listen to the Do Gooders Podcast Episode 115: An inside look at unique offerings of the West’s seven Kroc Centers.
- Get inside the Caring Magazine Scripture Study Collection and find a suite of free, downloadable Bible studies to guide you through topics from New Beginnings Through Forgiveness, to Understanding our Imago Dei or Life Hacks From David.
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