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Grads Giving Back: Ronald Kahn, ’73: Serving the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland

By Lori Atherton
November 27, 2017

Ronald Kahn’s daughter was just 7 months old when she was diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer called retinoblastoma. Kahn and his family traveled from their home in Shaker Heights, Ohio, to New York for his daughter’s treatment. While she was being treated at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, Kahn, and his wife, Susy, stayed in a brownstone that was made available free of charge to visiting families of eye clinic patients. Having a welcoming place to stay alleviated some of their stress, so when Kahn and his family returned home to continue his daughter’s chemotherapy, he didn’t hesitate when he was asked to help start a local Ronald McDonald House.

The Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland—the ninth such house in the country—opened its doors in 1979. Nearly four decades later, Kahn, ’73, is still involved with the organization, which provides housing and support services to families of critically ill and injured children receiving treatment at area hospitals. Except for a stint as president from 1991 to 1994, Kahn has been the secretary and pro bono legal counsel of the organization since its inception, and has served on numerous committees, including the executive and board effectiveness committees, of which he is still a member.

“It’s been a rewarding experience, and I feel like I’m continuing to make a contribution,” Kahn said. “I’m the only person who’s been on the board of trustees continuously since we opened our doors.”

In recognition of his lifelong service to the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland, Kahn was presented the 2016 Ramey Award for Distinguished Community Service from the Ohio State Bar Foundation last October. “It was a nice ending to my career,” said Kahn, who retired in 2016 after practicing tax and employee benefits law at Ulmer & Berne LLP for 43 years.

What’s kept Kahn—who has served the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland almost as long as he’s practiced law—involved for all these years? “I always felt there was something else coming along where I could do some good, that there was an additional challenge that I was willing to grapple with,” he said.

Those challenges included aiding in two expansions of the Ronald McDonald House because the demand for accommodations was so high. “We were at a situation in the early 1990s and around 2010 where we were waitlisting more families than we wanted to,” Kahn said. “Our house serves families from all counties in Ohio, all 50 states, and more than 80 countries.” Kahn—who helped negotiate the acquisition of a former college motel that was renovated into the original 26-room Ronald McDonald House in the 1970s—was involved in the purchase of the land and the construction contracts for a new 36-room facility built during his term as president. He then helped to oversee the renovation and expansion of that House into a larger facility that opened in 2013 with 55 rooms, enlarged cooking areas, and a conference center.

Between 1,100 and 1,600 families stay at the Ronald McDonald House each year, Kahn noted, while another 80,000 families utilize the Ronald McDonald House Family Rooms at four Cleveland-area hospitals. “Families can go there for some respite without leaving the hospital and their sick child,” said Kahn, who noted the Family Rooms feature computer and Internet access, a stocked kitchenette, a seating area with television, and a play area for children. In addition, the Ronald McDonald House of Cleveland, in partnership with Ohio Family and Children First, operates redtreehouse.org—a statewide online resource that addresses the medical, financial, legal, educational, and other needs of families with ill or injured children or young adults upon their discharge from the hospital.

Kahn knows the value of those types of resources. His daughter, who lost her sight at age 2 as a result of the eye cancer, attended a school for blind, deaf, and autistic children before she was mainstreamed into the Shaker Heights school system in third grade. Upon completing her graduate work, she operated her own music therapy business for several years before marrying and taking a job as a peer advocate at the Cleveland Sight Center, where she helps blind and visually impaired individuals with job placement.

“My experience with my daughter certainly gives me the roots of knowing the value of what we’re doing at the Ronald McDonald House, as well as the satisfaction of knowing we’re helping so many people,” Kahn said. “There’s also the reward of having worked with so many fine people along the way, including board members, staff, volunteers, and contributors, some of whom have become lifelong friends.”

During the month of November, our Grads Giving Back series highlights ways that Michigan Law graduates are going above and beyond to serve their local communities outside of the office. This is the last installment in our series. Read our previous story, Reena Bajowala, ’05, Turns Outrage into Action.

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