Ronald McDonald House reopens after flooding during Polar Vortex

“The Ronald McDonald House was here for us from the moment my daughter got sick,” says Kayla Ybanez as her daughter Theresa stands beside her during ceremonies marking the reopening of Hyde Park’s Ronald McDonald House. (Photo by Marc Monaghan)

Staff writer

After months of reconstruction, the Ronald McDonald House, 5444 S. Drexel Ave., has reopened after a broken pipe caused significant water damage and forced the building to close eight months ago.

Holly Buckendahl, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, said: “I am ready to declare this crisis over.”

Families will be able to move back into the newly renovated house on Oct. 8.

“While it has been difficult, the past months have reminded us just how much many people care about the house,” said Mardelle Gundlach, who has been with Ronald McDonald Charities for 32 years and serves as a Program Director. “So many people have written, called, sent gifts and wish list items. It’s been a joy to see what many people think of the Ronald McDonald House.”

Gundlach was on duty Feb. 1 when the pipe burst. Seven families living in the house were alerted by a fire alarm and were notified that a pipe had burst on the third floor of the building. Within a couple of hours, Gundlach and the rest of the staff were able to safely evacuate residents and relocate them to hotels nearby within a couple of hours.

Kayla Ybanez and her daughter Theresa, who was hospitalized for 436 straight days after her appendix ruptured and her family discovered that she was sick due to an unknown cause of bone marrow failure, spoke during the grand reopening presentation. They were one of the families who were living in the Ronald McDonald House when the pipe burst. It was Theresa’s first time seeing the house after the pipe burst.

“We couldn’t be more grateful to the staff, the volunteers, Mardelle and everyone involved in the Ronald McDonald House Charities for everything that they gave to us during this unimaginable time in our life,” said Ybanez. “Until you go through it as a parent, you never really know how much you really do need help and to have this organization right by the hospital so that we are able to have someplace to sleep and have some meals.

“There are no words to describe just how much they did for us during this difficult time in our life. We’re so happy to be here to celebrate the grand opening so that other families are going to be able to experience this gift and the support that meant so much to us.”

In February, Buckendahl told the Herald: “On the first floor, where the kitchen is located, there is a lot of damage to the ceiling, wall, and appliances. The third and second floors, where our guest bedrooms are, have significant damages. The ceiling and walls will need to be extracted. The basement had two feet of standing water by the time it was over and will have significant repairs.”

After the pipe burst, Buckendahl said, “within 12-24 hours, this community rallied around us and we will forever be grateful for that. This house truly looked like a war zone and it was destroyed. We, very quickly, had restoration companies here doing their best to stop the seepage. You all, as our Ronald McDonald House Family, really helped us achieve what we’ve done here today. That would not have been possible without that generous support.”