My Last Day at the House

By Ryan Wilkins

Today is my last day on staff at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Ohio. It’s hard to sum up everything I want to say after nearly 6,000 days working for an organization. When I started at the House, I was just 31. Jamie Foltz got my resume and invited me in for an interview. I had been a musician previously, so I was a little worried in the interview. Would I really be qualified? She thought so, and invited me to what I didn’t realize at the time would be the best job I’ve ever had. Thank you, Jamie, for believing in me.

My mom, me, and my daughters Vera & Penelope at the House

I started working in a building that isn’t there anymore. We moved into the location where the Columbus Ronald McDonald House is now in August of 2008. That move happened the same day of our Golf Classic. It was a wild season. But it taught me so much about the power of perseverance.

Me & Ronald in the early days

A while after we moved in, there was a change at the Executive Director level. Everyone was nervous. Would we survive or need to find a new job? I will never forget Paul Thompson coming in my office and candidly sharing with me that there was some concern whether my role was necessary for the organization. I knew I had something to prove. And I worked my butt off to prove it. Thank you, Paul, for giving me the chance to prove my worth through my work and teaching me so much about resilience.

A few months later, our team got a new development director. Her name was Dee Anders, and she came with a tremendous amount of respect as a fundraiser. She was my new boss, and she rallied our team together. Dee, Jamie, Kali Wulff, and me. We were the Development Team, and we didn’t know how good we had it. Those days were a lot of fun. Sometimes Jamie and I fought like brother and sister 😂. But I look back on those years so fondly. Dee saw something in me that motivated me to want to be my best. She encouraged me to aspire to reach for my dreams. And she’s been the best boss anyone could ever want for 15 years since. Dee, thank you is not nearly enough. I appreciate you so much!

Me and Dee at the Ohio State Fair with the Budweiser Clydesdale, Dalmatian, and the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile

Most days back then I arrived in the office at 6:00 am and didn’t leave until 6:00 pm. I accepted every possible responsibility I could. When the program director left, I took on the interim roll in addition to my normal job. When something needed done, I was there. Nights, weekends, didn’t matter. I appreciated my job so much because the mission really sunk in. We were making such a profound impact on the lives of so many families who needed our care. Looking back, I’m not sure exactly how many families I’ve impacted in my 16 years. But I am confident they all made a giant impact on me. The hope and resilience I witness every day at the House has changed my life. I’m so much more grateful today because of them. Some kids seem to have a special light when they are struggling with illness. I’m not sure what that really is. But I’m sure it’s true. I have seen it too many times to deny. Those children have given me a lesson in strength and attitude. They actually have something to complain about. Their lives are harder than others. But they never complain. In fact, they seem full of optimism and dare I say joy. Their light has lit a fire in my spirit that will burn the rest of my life. To those children and families, thank you. I thought my job would be about making your lives better. But the opposite happened. You gave me new eyes. I’m eternally grateful.

In my old office before our expansion

In 2010, I wanted to learn more about leadership. At the encouragement of a few friends, I applied to participate in Leadership Columbus. Dee was very supportive and backed me the whole way. That experience helped shape my approach to leadership. That same year, Dee suggested I should start an auto donation business for the organization. I didn’t know what that really was, but I tackled the job with as much as I could possibly give. A few people really helped, especially Dee and Jeff Hubbard. Little did I know that this fledging local fundraiser, that we called the RMHC Vehicle Donation Program, would grow to become a national fundraiser supporting every local Ronald McDonald House in the US. Today, that program generates nearly $3 Million every year in funding for local Houses to serve their families. I am humbled when I consider the impact that simple idea has made. People have cars. They donate them to the charity. We sell them and use the money to run our mission. I still can’t believe so many people donate cars. But they do and I am grateful. For everyone who has donated a vehicle to RMHC, thank you! You have given me so much hope.

In 2012, we were embarking on an expansion project to grow the Ronald McDonald House. Dee asked me to take on the responsibility of directing the facilities department in addition to my marketing and communications role. I was honored to do so. For the next 10 years, I directed both the marketing and facilities departments. I was the only marketing/facilities professional on earth 😂. But I was really excited to be able to have so many different experiences. Like speaking to the media and then immediately dealing with basement flooding. Oh man, basement flooding. Speaking of… I don’t want to think about that today. Moving on.

Me, Joel Merrill, Zak Chappelear, and Ron Rech with giant Ronald McDonald in the back yard of Ronald McDonald House

When I started at RMHC, there were 8 people on staff. I was the second youngest. Today, we have nearly 50. We went from 44 guest rooms to 80, to 122 in 2014, to now 206 today. I’m not sure I have fully realized just how much we have grown together. I have been too close to it. But looking back, I am blown away. It’s been a wild ride, and I’m so proud of what I have been able to be a part of.

Over the 16 years, I have had too many teammates, interns, board members and committee members to even name. And hundreds of volunteers who became my family. My mom and dad have become volunteers and have done a lot to support me and the mission. Thanks Mom and Dad! One volunteer became my family. I met my wife Andrea at RMHC. She was a volunteer who was friends with one of my coworkers, Darla. I had known Andrea as someone who clearly cared about the mission of RMHC. We even worked on a project together – and I vividly remember calling her the wrong name. She doesn’t remember it, but I was mortified. Little did I know at that time that she would become my wife years later. Sadly, both Andrea and I went through divorces around the same time. It was the hardest season of my life. I was heartbroken and felt like a zombie. Of course, everyone at the House was so supportive and understanding. I can remember the first Valentine’s Day after my divorce all the girls I worked with wrote me a card to encourage me. They gave me a rose. I think it was one of the kindest things anyone has done for me. They really are like sisters to me. But one day, Darla was setting up a meeting for her, Andrea, and me. That wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. I’ve met with thousands of people in my time at RMHC. But when we were struggling to find a time that worked for all three of us to meet, Darla said “why don’t you just meet with her one on one?” I thought that was a little odd since Darla was the one who initiated the meeting. I hesitantly said “ok” and walked out of the office. Then it hit me. “Are you setting me up?” I turned back and asked Darla. She smiled and said “yes.” I was terrified, to be honest. I genuinely thought I would be alone the rest of my life after my divorce. But that lunch meeting changed everything. Andrea was different than any other woman I had known. She was strong and determined, while also being soft and genuinely caring at the same time. When we first started talking to one another, I was a shell of a man. Many times, I broke down and cried with her. I think she made me feel safe. And I could let out all the pain, knowing that she wouldn’t judge me. She saw something in me I thought had died. She believed in me, and thought that I was someone worth loving. She will tell you that those months were pretty frustrating. She wanted to date me, but I wasn’t ready. There are a lot of funny stories from those days including sushi and falling out of chairs. She just couldn’t be my friend because she wanted to date me. So, we stopped talking. Until one day when she got a Valpak in the mail. She opened it and the first ad was for the RMHC Vehicle Donation Program. She texted me a pic of it and asked how I was. She was coming in the the House for a meeting, and wondered if I’d be there. I was, so she stopped in my office. I can still remember what she was wearing. White jeans and a leopard print shirt. I can’t exactly describe what I felt in my heart when she was in my office. But when she told me she was going on a 3rd date with some other jerk, I immediately felt in my mind “oh, hell no!” I asked “you mean like the third date with the same guy?” I didn’t say anything that day, but I knew in my heart that I wanted to give a relationship a try with this woman. So I texted her, told her about how I felt, and she sent back “that’s all I needed. Hold on, I’m going to cancel that date.” And We’ve been inseparable since that day. The Ronald McDonald House brought me my wife, my soulmate, and best friend. For that, no words of thanks are sufficient.

Me and my wife, Andrea, at Game Arena event for RMHC

No one wants to leave a job they love. Especially at a place like the House. But it is time. I’m excited about the next chapter of my journey. As I reflect on my tenure at RMHC, I am filled with gratitude and thanksgiving. I started at the absolute bottom. Low man on the chart. Schlep. And today I am stepping away as Chief Marketing Officer, member of the RMHC Global Advisory Team, and currently longest tenured employee for our local chapter. I know the Marketing and Communications department I started years ago will go on to do even greater things under the leadership of Maddie Knostman and continued tireless work of Rick Shepherd. Thank you both for your incredible service and partnership. And the organization is in the best hands with Dee’s leadership and the support of Angela Hartley, Kate Becker, Angela Lorenz, Darla Stover, Maddie Knostman, Caitlin Wolcott, Meika Hilles, Vicki Chappelear, and so many other amazing team members.

A few Board members have made a big difference in my life who I would be remiss to not thank here. Thank you, Todd Alexander, Leslie Bumgarner, Matt Barnes, Tammy Roberts Myers, Wendy Bradshaw, Rick Ricart, Erin Gilchrist, and many, many more. I especially want to add a note of gratitude for Vickie Easterday, who sadly passed away a few years ago. She was such a guiding light for me at RMHC and I to this day think “I wish I could ask Vickie about that.”

The Columbus Blue Jackets with Henry the House Dog and me

I am honored to have been trusted with this prestigious role, and I am stepping away feeling every emotion imaginable. I’m grateful to continue serving the organization as a volunteer on the Marketing Committee and Vehicle Donation Program Committee. And I am crazy enough to have accepted the invitation from Dee to be an exhibitor for the Dean’s Charity Steer Show. So, I’m not leaving. Just changing my role. But it definitely is a big change. I will miss the House. It’s been my home away from home for a third of my life. 3 of our 4 kids haven’t ever known me as anything other than “he works at Ronald McDonald House.”

If anyone is interested, you can see what I’m working on next at You can always email me at

This isn’t goodbye. It’s see you later. The House has a way of really getting in your spirit. And once it does, you can’t shake it. This place, this mission, these people, mean too much to walk away from. So, on to the next chapter. And the man that I am today is better because of the impact of a place for families to stay when their kids are sick and in the hospital. What a truly profound yet simple idea. I’m blessed.

Food Truck Fridays at the House with Hot Chicken Takeover
Matt Barnes hosting Food Truck Fridays promo at NBC4
RMHC sign at RMHC Global Conference, and me 🙂
From A Toast to Tinseltown, me dressed as Marty McFly, and Randy Malloy as Doc Brown
Groundbreaking ceremony for new expansion… I’m oddly off to the side, but honored to be there!