Joan Kroc’s vision was in healing people. So much so that those on the receiving end of her humanitarian efforts have come to refer to the late widow of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc as “Angel.” This philanthropic drive was never more apparent than when she donated $1.5 billion to the Salvation Army in 2002 to build Kroc Centers all around the world, including a facility in Memphis that opened its doors this past February.
Joan’s donation has since been revered as the largest one-time gift from an individual to an organization on record. With just a few caveats regarding how the money should be spent, she instated specific requirements on how the centers were to be set up, chief among those being that the community centers be placed in the heart of each city. The Bluff City’s new Kroc Center is located at 800 East Parkway South. Nestled at the focal point of the Bluff City, the center is impossible to miss.
Kroc Centers are sprawling community hubs that offer parks and recreational services, as well as worship services. They are able to raise matching funds and be self-supporting so as not to distract from the critical areas of focus for the Salvation Army, which includes a myriad of disaster relief efforts. “She saw the comfort brought by that kind of care and trusted the Army to do it,” says Ellen Westbrook, public relations manager for the Memphis Kroc Center. The Kroc Center is only one of the four centers of Salvation Army operations in Memphis.
Kroc-goers are, upon entry, greeted with an open lobby featuring tile floors, high ceilings and expansive windows that expose a courtyard featuring a stone fountain, lush shrubbery and tables arranged in a fashion that can only be described as “zen.” This courtyard was donated by the Wilson family, who is revered across Memphis due to their School of Hospitality and Restaurant Management, as well as their ownership of Holiday Inn.
Continuing on the tour de Kroc Center, the next stop is the theater. This theater was donated by local philanthropist Nancy Crosby’s son and daughter-in-law, who decided to do so because of Crosby’s talent for singing. Crosby was a member of the Kroc Center’s advisory board and passed away during the construction of the community building. “When things would get stressful in meetings, she would just sing!” says Westbrook of Nancy’s legend. “That’s the reason they particularly wanted to name the performing arts center in her honor.”
Just outside the theater, a long hallway of classrooms extends throughout the facility. There are numerous classes taught in each room, including continuing education for seniors, book clubs, corporate meetings and an art studio. The art studio is dedicated to Steve Nelson, a retired city planner who helped with the Kroc Center’s planning and permitting, and now paints in his retirement. This visual arts program includes not only Nelson’s interest of painting but also drawing and assembling pottery.
At the end of the hallway of classrooms is the Kroc Café. The cafe is run by Chef Quan Anderson, who has a degree in culinary arts and Christian education. The kitchen is set up to be a teachable environment and provides cooking classes for all ages and interests. There are classes for parents and their children, including instruction in healthy cooking and quick cooking. “My work as a minister and culinary background collaborated with the center as to what God already had pre-ordained,” Chef Anderson says. Before working at the Kroc Center, Anderson worked at a number of extravagant hotels like the Peabody and hotels in New York, but he recently finished a biblical cook book for children. “I took everything from the Bible and put recipes to it,” he says.
Westbrook points to the pool area and laughs. “It’s more of a water park,” says Westbrook. Each area of the pool is usually occupied by toddlers clad in floaties, splashing about the shallow area; children running free around the slap pads and spray tower; adults making their laps in lanes; and lifeguards actively on duty. The only thing necessary before joining the Assisi Foundation-donated fun is to sign up for a swimming activity offered by the Kroc Center and taking note of the general safety rules on its website. “Calling it a ‘pool’ is a bit of an understatement,” muses Westbrook.
Next was the fitness center, the home of more than 70 fitness classes and two free hours of child care for every member. The gym equipment is all smartphone activated, meaning the days of awkwardly standing around foreign equipment are over. “Each of the Kroc Centers includes something unique to that city and only Memphis has the AutoZone Challenge Center,” Westbrook says. This center is built specifically for interactive training. With an obstacle course that includes ladders and quick-step challenges, as well as foam pits and hoops to jump through and over, this center definitely presents many challenges for people of all ages to enjoy.
The next stop is the sports center, which features an NBA-sized basketball court that can be rented as a section or a whole; an indoor turf for soccer or lacrosse; and along the right-hand wall, a garage band setup designed to showcase the unmistakable musical talents of Bluff City denizens and offer nights of various stylings.
Lastly is the 1st Tennessee Lobby, a space immediately outside the courts and garage band area that can be reserved for camps or meetings. “This is an award area as well, to recognize not only the winners but if they were a good sport, they get their picture across the screen, as well,” Westbrook says, as a camp of children stomps through chanting, “march, march, march.”
Memphis is only one of the many cities with a Kroc Center. They are located in more than 120 countries across the world and have a noted presence in locales like Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco.
Causes | September 2013
Tour de Kroc
The Salvation Army's recently established Kroc Center in Memphis provides a recreational respite during the sweltering summer
Story By Samantha Esgro