Eagles

by Matt Minarik

It is that time of year. I am sure you have noticed McDonald’s advertising their popular but seasonal Shamrock Shake. It has a smooth minty flavor and bears my favorite color; green. Whether you are a fan of this popular shake or not, you might find the story of how it originated interesting. If it wasn’t for our Philadelphia Eagles, it might not exist. I find it humorous that there are Cowboys fans who like the shake, and it’s all because of the Eagles. Take that, Dallas!

WHO IS FRED HILL?

Drafted by the Baltimore Colts in the 4th Round of the 1965 NFL Draft, Tight End Fred Hill was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles shortly after the draft. He spent his entire career from 1965-71, wearing Eagles green. He started for the majority of his career, totaling 85 receptions for 1,005 yards and five Touchdowns. His career numbers are not why his name is known; it is what happened after his career concluded that makes him stand out.

Image via Beckett Trading Cards

HEARTBREAK IN THE HILL HOUSEHOLD

In 1969, Fred and his wife Fran’s three-year-old daughter Kim was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia. This is the most common childhood cancer. Lymphatic leukemia is blood and bone marrow cancer that affects white blood cells. Fred and Fran were told Kim only had six months to live. Anna Orso of Billypenn.com writes, Fred and his wife spent the better part of the next three years driving back and forth from South Jersey, where they lived, to St. Christopher’s in North Philly for her treatment. She was exceeding the six-month prognosis doctors had given her years before. This took a toll on them because they didn’t know how much longer she would beat the odds.

Kim Hill with her dad Fred Hill prior to the opening of the Ronald McDonald House at Duke University in the early 1980s. (Courtesy of the Hill family)

THE EAGLES SWOOP IN

Eagles owner, Leonard Tose, was known to be a generous man. He was a multi-millionaire that not only raised money to fight leukemia but also gave thousands to fund local high school sports programs. Even after Hill retired in 1971, Tose wanted to stay involved. That’s when Hill, his neighbor Stan Lane and Tose started a group called Eagles Fly for Leukemia. The goal was to raise money for families that couldn’t afford their children’s treatment.

Eagles General Manager, Jimmy Murray, met with the doctors treating Kim to see what they needed to improve their facilities and help families. Dr. Lawrence Namain was one of the doctors he met with and was told their facility was over 100 years old, and they pretty much needed everything, but there was someone that needed help even more. Namain referred Murray to Dr. Audrey Evans of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Evans had a laundry list of needs, especially because they were moving locations. She was asked how much it would cost to fund two rooms. She replied with $50,000, but Tose had another number in mind, a million dollars. After several charity events, the first $125,000 was raised, and Murray presented Evans with the check. Eagles writer Julie Bacanskas writes the first Eagles donations went toward creating two positive pressure rooms, which are used for patients with compromised immune systems.

Check Presentation on the steps of the first Ronald McDonald House in St. Louis,  July 1981 (Image via Ronald McDonald House Charities)

HERE COMES THE SHAMROCK SHAKE

Audrey Evans’ biggest dream was to provide somewhere for families to stay that lived far away and had children in the hospital. Housing would be needed for families. Jimmy Murray reached out to former co-worker Don Tuckerman whose advertising firm has the McDonalds account. He asked him what their next promotion was going to be. St. Patrick’s Day was right around the corner, and their next promotion was going to be the Shamrock Shake.

Ok, the shake wasn’t invented for the Eagles, but it is because of the Eagles that the popularity of the shake took off. Murray asked if McDonald’s was willing to donate 25 cents of each shake toward the house. Mcdonald’s regional manager, Ed Rensi, replied, “‘What if we give you all the money? Can we call it the Ronald McDonald House?’”  Opening in October of 1974, the first Ronald McDonald House was funded solely on funds raised by the Shamrock Shake. So not only did the Shamrock Shake gain its popularity because of the Eagles, the Eagles kick-started the Ronald McDonald House. According to the Ronald McDonalds House Charities website, there are more than 365 Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the United States and worldwide, with local chapters in 64 countries and regions. All of this is because of the vision of one doctor and the Philadelphia Eagles. For one week a year, Philadelphia-area McDonalds still donate part of the Shamrock Shake proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House.

Kim Hill beat the odds and lived to be 44 years old. She passed away in 2011 from brain tumors that were thought to be caused by the radiation she received when she was three.

It all started with a dream to help families in need. The Ronald McDonald House is known worldwide, and it all began in the City of Brotherly Love. There are many reasons I am proud to call myself a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. This reason is definitely at the top of the list. No matter the owner, general manager, or any other front office exec., the Eagles always go above and beyond to help those in the community.