PEORIA — It didn’t take much coaxing to get 4-year-old Jane Mitchell to sign the big yellow beam sitting in the lobby at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center on Friday morning.
Jane picked up an oversized Sharpie and wrote her name in big block letters as her smiling parents, Joe and Jonell Mitchell of Bettendorf, Iowa, looked on.
The Mitchells were in town Friday for an appointment at Children’s Hospital of Illinois for Jane, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 2017. Before leaving, they made sure to sign the beam, which will be installed in the Ronald McDonald House in Downtown Peoria.
“We stayed in the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis for about three months after Jane was diagnosed,” said Joe Mitchell. “We can’t say enough about the Ronald McDonald House. It’s truly an amazing place."
Jane is one of many patients, family members and medical staff who signed the beam, which will be put into place at 8 a.m. May 14. The names will be visible on the front of the building for at least a few months while construction continues.
“Construction is on track despite the extremely cold winter we had. We are still planning for a completion date late this fall,” said Kelly Thompson, chief executive officer for Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois.
Though fundraising is also on track, more donations are needed.
“We are still working very hard to raise the final funds we need, about $1.5 million. People can donate online at our website or by calling the Peoria number, 401-2525,” said Thompson.
Helping with the fundraising effort are Adam and Christine Simmons of Morton, whose 10-month old son Bowden died of leukemia in 2016. The family lived in Naperville at the time and stayed at the Ronald McDonald house near Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago while Bowden was in treatment.
“We stayed there about six months,” said Christine Simmons. “Our home in Naperville was about 45 miles away, and we certainly weren’t going to leave him. We were very blessed with that room. It allowed us to bring our daughter, who was 2 years old at the time. Being that close helped us better advocate for Bowden.”
Shortly after Bowden passed away, the family moved back to central Illinois, where Adam and Christine both grew up, and began looking for a way to give back. They made some inquiries about why Peoria didn’t have a Ronald McDonald House.
“We reached out on a whim, and it just happened the campaign to bring a house here was just beginning,” said Simmons. The couple became the local spokesperson family for the fundraising effort.
“We have gone to every event and told our story, and we will continue to volunteer at the house after it opens,” said Simmons.
Learn more about Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois at rmhc-centralillinois.org.
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.