By Joe Mortellaro
This is a very easy question to answer. It all started in 1984, when I had been a McDonald’s Owner/Operator for two years, and I was asked to serve on the Columbus Ronald McDonald House Board of Trustees. The House was located on 18th Street, and it was a very small House with a very small staff, but what I saw when I walked in changed my life forever.
Walking in the front door and walking into the great room where all the families gathered was very touching. I left that day with a purpose—a purpose to help those families that were going through a very tough time. I returned home, telling my wife, Krys, that we needed to do something for those families.
I love golf, so my idea was to hold a Golf Tournament, something I had never done before. I lived in Mount Vernon and we had a public golf course, Hiawatha, so I talked to the owner of the course and he thought it was a great idea. This became the birth of the Ronald McDonald House Golf Classic. We had no budget, so when I went and asked for donations, I realized people did not know what the Ronald McDonald House did to serve families. My mission was clear—to educate the people of Mount Vernon and Knox County what the Columbus Ronald McDonald House did for families of seriously ill children.
The first tournament raised $4,000. We served Quarter Pounders for lunch and dinner. The golf tournament itself took six hours to play. Why? I did not know much about golf tournaments so I thought the more golfers I had, the more money I would raise. It never dawned on me that a six hour round of golf was unacceptable.
From that first tournament to today, the event has grown tremendously. It is played on five premiere golf courses in Columbus and we gross about $350,000 for the one-day event. Not another golf tournament in Columbus can lay claim to the fact that The Ohio State University Football and Basketball head coaches are the honorary co-chairs of the event.
To celebrate the 25th year of the tournament, we decided to start another tournament, a Junior Golf Tournament in Mount Vernon, where it all began. Today, we are in our fourth year of hosting the Junior Golf Tournament. To continue to celebrate the 25th year of the tournament (and much to my surprise), the Columbus Ronald McDonald House decided to rename the tournament the Joe Mortellaro Ronald McDonald House Golf Classic. What an honor—I was so humbled.
Since the Joe Mortellaro Golf Classic has started, people know about the Columbus Ronald McDonald House. My goal was accomplished. We raised a lot of money for those families so they have a place to sleep, eat, and be with families who are going through similar situations. We went from a small 18 room House to the biggest Ronald McDonald House in the world!
Now, when I visit the House, that feeling of pride comes out—I cannot believe how far the Columbus Ronald McDonald House has come. It did not just come together because of my work, but so many individuals have led to its success. To the staff at the House and their caring attitude, to the many corporate partners who have stepped up to the plate by serving on the Board of Trustees and contributing on a financial level. Let’s not forget the many amazing volunteers that contribute their time to the success of the House as well as the golf tournament. As we get prepared to celebrate our 30th Annual Joe Mortellaro Golf Classic next year, I’m very proud of the Ronald McDonald House and know that by wearing the RMHC logo wherever I go, I am a walking ambassador for the House, and I want to continue to educate people on what the Ronald McDonald House means to our family.