San Diego Finds ‘Heart of the City’


APPRECIATIVE–Major Don Bell announces Mrs. Joan Kroc’s gift of $80 million to The Salvation Army in San Diego as (l-r) Commissioner David Edwards, Major Debora Bell, Mrs. Joan Kroc and Vin Ciruzzi look on.

SAN DIEGO, CA.–Philanthropist Joan Kroc announced a donation of $80 million to The Salvation Army of San Diego to be used exclusively for the development, construction and long-term operation of The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center. Located on 12 acres of land now blighted with empty commercial facilities, the Center will serve San Diego’s mid-city area as well as the communities of La Mesa and Lemon Grove. It is the largest single donation ever provided the Army in its compassionate and caring ministry of Christian love.

“This is one my happiest moments in many, many ways, maybe in my whole life,” the widow of McDonalds Corpor-ation founder Ray A. Kroc said in beginning her remarks. “I feel privileged to have my name beside Ray’s on the Center. I can remember Ray ringing the bell at Christmas time in downtown San Diego. I’m pretty certain that no one passed that kettle without dropping something into it.”

Major Donald Bell, Sierra Del Mar divisional commander, in receiving the gift stated: “The Salvation Army is deeply moved and inspired by Mrs. Kroc’s generosity and caring. Our vision for stronger families and revitalized neighborhoods will now become reality for this community and serve as a new standard for effective programs and planning for other donors across the United States.”

Joan Kroc

THANK YOU–Janine and Andreé Hall, of Chula Vista, show their appreciation to Mrs. Joan Kroc.

Commissioner David Edwards, territorial commander, said to Mrs. Kroc: “We feel humbled and challenged by this tremendous expression of trust you place in The Salvation Army as demonstrated by this gift you make to the people of San Diego.” He pledged to her and to the several hundred onlookers, “On this site, people who need our help will get it. On this site, people who need hope will find it. On this site, people who need to experience God’s love will feel it in very practical and understandable everyday contacts.”


The Salvation Army in San Diego, Calif., labels it The Heart of the City project. It will be a new community center to provide a wide array of services to children and adults. It will be designed to integrate all aspects of human development leading to strong, positive, competent and creative human beings. Numerous programs leading to physical, emotional, intellectual and social growth will combine with opportunities for spiritual development to form a set of core values that foster good citizenship, positive self-esteem, high achievement and spiritual enlightenment.

The project was inspired and brought into being by the generous gift of $80 million by Mrs. Joan Kroc, widow of McDonald’s founder, Ray A. Kroc. It will exclusively support the development, construction and operating expenses for The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center. In recounting how she decided to make the gift, Kroc said: “This is an especially meaningful occasion for me. This project took seed a few years ago when Maureen O’Conner (then San Diego’s mayor) took me on a tour of America’s finest city, in areas that I had never visited in the 23 years I’ve lived in San Diego.

“I was troubled with what I observed. It left a deep impression on me. One that would not go away. It also left me with a persistent desire to try to do something positive for those families that lived in the areas we toured. I was touched particularly by the children, as I realized that they desperately needed a safe gathering place–a place with facilities and trained professionals to nurture and develop their social skills, arts, appreciation and athletic potential.

“The task of creating such a center was overwhelming. Quite frankly, I didn’t know where to begin. After months of pondering over it I called Colonel Don Sather (then Sierra Del Mar Divisional Commander) of The Salvation Army. I asked him to present some information as to needs in the neighborhoods and recommendations to alleviate them. I asked him for an artist’s rendering of what a center would look like if we were to incorporate the facilities we have seen displayed today. I asked him to let his imagination carry him–to fantasize a ‘dream center.’ Well, he did, and shortly after that conversation, we had a meeting. Vin Ciruzzi (San Diego Advisory Board chairman), Art Stillwell (now project director), Colonel Sather and I were enthusiastic about the possibilities. Together, we made a commitment to explore in a serious manner the best way to attain our goals.

Choosing the Army as the means for community service

“Ray held the Army in such high esteem,” Joan Kroc said in her remarks. “I have a photo of him ringing the bell at Christmas time in downtown San Diego. I’m pretty certain that no one passed that kettle without dropping something into it.

“I remember one of Ray’s friends asked him why he was giving so much of his wealth away. He retorted: ‘Well, I’ve never seen a Brinks truck follow a hearse, have you?’ ”

“The Salvation Army is an integral part of the world community, and its presence in San Diego has allowed me the privilege and opportunity to be involved with these extraordinary people of integrity and strength. They have reached into the far corners of the world to support those in need. So, here we are–about to begin something unique, something needed. We can help bring our city together by declaring our love to all of its children and show them the faith we have in their future.”

Developing the program

Building on the compassionate commitment of Joan Kroc, the Army initiated discussions with its advisory board, community leaders and planners, and the three cities whose borders converge on the site. Even finding available land proved difficult, but Art Stillwell, project executive director “found a blessing from the Lord in every phase of the search.” Stillwell stated: “Everyone participating in the process of finding suitable land thought it would take at least two to three years to find the necessary 12 acres needed. We considered about 11 properties in San Diego, ranging from four to thirty acres, but none were available for sale. A member of the Metropolitan Advisory Board identified 12.3 acres of land in East San Diego that was readily available and with that recommendation we found an answer to our prayers and the future site of the center.”

The facilities will include provisions for a worship center, a full sized gymnasium, fields for baseball and soccer, a state-of-the-art computer-only library, an olympic-size swimming pool, classroom facilities, a center for the performing arts, banquet and food service facilities. The programs will emphasize spiritual development and meeting the specific needs of families including infant and child care, senior nutrition, family counseling and family and senior development. An ambitious athletic program will offer such diversified activities as swimming and diving, ice skating, soccer, baseball, basketball and various levels of fitness training for every age group. The educational program will offer the latest in computer hardware and software and special classes designed to promote better-functioning students and families.

The performing and visual arts building will offer instrumental and vocal music lessons, practice rooms and individual rehearsal space for theater, instrumental music dance, vocal music, electronic music and the visual arts. A 500-seat auditorium will accommodate theatrical, musical and public speaking occasions. The banquet and food service facilities will support senior citizens and families.


Recognizing the multicultural representation of the East San Diego area, the center will focus one aspect of its programming potential on building multicultural understanding within the ethnically diverse community. Similar to Kroc’s vision for the center, it will become a “safe place” for people of all ages to congregate. The opportunities for this diverse population to associate, learn, play and grow together is intended to build community within diverse populations. The Army has completed a population density survey and determined that there were 20 schools and 8,000 students within a mile and a half of the site. Additionally, the San Diego State University campus is very close to the site.

Endowment supports on-going operating expenses

Kroc has seen fit to facilitate excellence in programming through the establishment of an endowment within a portion of the $80 million which will support on-going operating expenses of the project. She envisions volunteer and salaried support from some of the nation’s most celebrated athletes, musicians, actors, artists, and writers.

Written by Robert Docter and Victor Pinzon, with
contributions by Sue Warner. Photos by John Docter

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