From fries to philanthropy


After devoting nearly 40 years to the world’s largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurants, Marshall Chay can’t seem to completely give up his day job.

The owner/operator of McDonald’s in Wauwatosa, at North 65th Street and West North Avenue, can still be found several days a week pitching in on the morning drive-thru shift.

Chay can’t help it; he’s got ketchup coursing through his veins. He started at age 16 as a crew member and over the years rose to become an executive. For the past 20 years, he’s been an owner and operator; at one time Chay owned six stores within the greater Milwaukee area.

But several years ago, Chay wanted to devote less time to work and more to volunteering and charity. Acknowledging that the Golden Arches had given him and his family a golden opportunity to give back, Chay and his wife, Jenny, created the ACME Foundation Fund in 2007. The donor advised fund takes its name from the Chays’ business, ACME Enterprises, which stands for their children: Anna, Catherine, Michael, and Elisabeth.

The ease of giving through the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, combined with the assurance that their money would go directly to causes they cared about, prompted the Chays to pick the Foundation, Jenny said.

Jenny admits she and Marshall have different ways of looking at the world. A Minneapolis native, she learned about philanthropy while active with her church. Marshall, who was born in Seoul, South Korea, and moved with his family to Milwaukee when he was age eight, didn’t share the same background.

"We were very poor," said Marshall, who said he learned about philanthropy while working at McDonald’s. It was there that customers would contribute money to donation boxes by the register, which benefited the local Ronald McDonald House, a home away from home for parents and families of children who stay in area hospitals.

When it came to deciding what their fund would support, it didn’t take long for the couple to agree. The fund supports organizations that tackle hunger, such as the Hunger Task Force, and those that work with children, including the Ronald McDonald House. But the Chays also like to find new, innovative programs. Jenny credits BranchingOut, the Foundation’s quarterly donor publication featuring new grantmaking opportunities, as part of her inspiration.

The Chays' children all worked at McDonald’s at some point and the couple is confident their kids will participate in this new family endeavor. All four have been named successor advisers. While they are not actively involved in grantmaking now, Marshall said he hopes each will select an organization they can support to get into the practice of giving.

"What I’m looking for is that they understand there are people out there who can really help you make (giving) as worthwhile as possible," Jenny said.

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