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10 (or so) questions with ... Phil Henoch

Phil Henoch, A tribute to the man who helped found RMH.

Phil Henoch

In mid-May, the Ronald McDonald House of Rochester—which has provided a home away from home to families seeking medical care for their children for 39 years—opened its $17 million expansion, increasing the number of rooms from 42 to 70.

A good friend to too many people to count, Phil Henoch passed away in 2012. The former owner of Rochester’s McDonald’s restaurants (from 1973 to 2001) was instrumental in starting RMH. Ten years ago this month, we interviewed Phil for 10 (or so) Questions. In honor of his work with RMH, here’s that Q&A from 2009.

Rochester Magazine: The rumor is that McDonald’s Shamrock shakes are just vanilla shakes colored green, but that people just believe they have a minty taste.

Phil Henoch: Oh no. They put mint in them. I can vouch for that. They’re legitimate.

RM: I miss the old, weird McDonald’s commercials with Hamburglar, Officer Big Mac, the McNugget Buddies ...

PH: Do you remember the commercial where the guys jumped over the front counter? Some of those old ones I think they should bring back.

RM: I was never a big Ronald McDonald fan when I was a kid.

PH: Ronald McDonald has gone through some stages. There was a time when they just pulled him back and let it cool for a while, when some of the teenagers weren’t accepting them in the proper manner. I don’t think they push them as much as they did at one time.

RM: They do some good things, though.

PH: The Ronald McDonald clown in the Milwaukee area was a trainer for years, and these guys are very well-trained. When I was supervising McDonald’s in Kenosha, Wis., he came to town and we took him to one of the hospitals. There was a little girl there who had been in an accident and was in a trauma situation and hadn’t talked for two weeks. Within five minutes he got her to talk, and I never forgot that.

RM: I was trying to put together a list of all of the volunteer work you’ve done.

PH: It’s been my contention that Rochester has treated me very well, and it’s a two-way street as far as I’m concerned. I just feel I have an obligation to give back to the community.

RM: But you and Barbara [Phil’s wife] show up as volunteers for so many things.

PH [laughing]: The pay is great.

RM: But what you do is above and beyond.

PH: We don’t see it that way. It’s just our duty.

RM: That’s the most I’m going to get out of you on that, isn’t it?

PH: Yes.

RM: I read your book (Sentimental Journeys, a biography of Phil and Barb Henoch written with Michael Ransom). It was a great read. I especially like the stories of your time in the Navy in World War II.

PH: We went through seven typhoons in the Pacific. I never got sick once.

RM: Did you eat at McDonald’s every day when you worked there?

PH: Yes. French fries.

RM: Is there any way you can pull some strings and go back to those trans fat oils?

PH: You know, that has been one of the most difficult things for McDonald’s. As you well know, it has a worldwide reputation for French fries. They had to be very careful.

RM: Do you eat at other fast food places?

PH: I have. I have never in all the years I’ve been in business made a derogatory remark about a competitor. One of the most outstanding things that happened to me was in 1978, when we had the flood in Rochester. The next morning I came down to the Broadway store in a truck—the water was still so high. The first person to come to my back door was the supervisor from the Burger King restaurants to ask me what he could do to help me. A pretty classy act.

RM: One of the things you must be most proud of is the Northland Oncology Services for Children, which became Rochester’s Ronald McDonald House.

PH: Look at this aspect of it, Steve. It gets most of its support from Rochester people. But nobody in Rochester ever stays there. Think about that. I like to say “This house belongs to no one, this house belongs to everyone.” So many people put so much work into making the Ronald McDonald House happen. Everyone should see how important it is to these families. Everyone should volunteer there just once. Once you see how much it means to these kids and families, you understand how important it is to donate and help out and to help this house grow.

RM: Say ‘white’ five times out loud.

PH: White, white, white, white, white.

RM: Quickly, what does a cow drink?

PH: Water.

RM: Everyone says milk. You almost said milk.

PH: No I didn’t.

RM: Yes you did. Your lips formed an ‘m’ before you said water.

PH [laughing]: No I didn’t.

RM: I’ve got it on tape.

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Steve, the editor of Rochester Magazine, has been professionally writing for 25+ years. He has, for story's sake, raced cars, driven a tank, mushed a dogsled team, and was repeatedly thrown down during pro wrestling lessons.

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