Penny Latham Mothershed: The Heart of the Ronald McDonald House

Each year on Christmas Eve, you may have noticed lighted luminaries in front of houses. Have you ever wondered what those luminaries represent? They are the annual Light a Luminary fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House of Winston-Salem, and serve as a symbol in honor of the families staying there. The families are unable to get home during the holiday season because of their child’s illness or injury. However, the House gives peace and comfort to families throughout the whole year, thanks to its founding by Penny Latham Mothershed and her late husband, Dick Latham.

Mothershed was inspired by her infant son to bring a Ronald McDonald House to Winston-Salem in the early 1980s.

“At the age of nine months, our son, Alan, was diagnosed with cancer. We were living in Burlington at the time, but moved to Winston-Salem to be near the hospital. Thanks to Dr. Patterson at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, Alan enjoyed playschool and did all the things boys loved to do until he passed away at three and half years old,” said Mothershed.

After Alan’s passing in April 1980, Mothershed knew she couldn’t go back to teaching first grade at that time. Instead, she wanted to give back to the community. During Alan’s stays in the hospital, Mothershed saw the need to help families going through one of the most devastating times in their lives.

“I slept under cribs, like many parents did. I saw people sleeping in their cars and in the waiting rooms and eating out of canteens, all just to be close to their child. I talked with Dr. Patterson about how we could help the families and honor Alan. The idea for a Ronald McDonald House in Winston-Salem was born,” said Mothershed.

In May, she visited the Ronald McDonald House in Duke and knew immediately the house would answer many of the needs of these families. Back in Winston-Salem, she met with McDonald’s owner Rich Halverson to discuss the need for a House here.

“Rich was almost as excited as I was. Unfortunately, the McDonald’s state organization was obligated to the Duke House at that time. Our parents’ group was somewhat disappointed, but we immediately felt that in a city such as we lived in, we could do it and incorporated as the Rainbow House of Winston-Salem. With the help of churches, civic groups, schools, the Junior League, and thousands of local caring individuals, we raised the necessary funds and founded the Ronald McDonald House on Hawthorne. God continued to bless us by locating a house directly across from the hospital. We were joined by McDonald’s before we began renovations. Another tremendous blessing,” said Mothershed.

The House that love built opened in September 1984. Today, there are four houses connected to each other and they include 35 bedrooms and baths, laundry facilities, a huge kitchen, dining room, family rooms, and quiet areas. According to Mothershed, the most important thing about the House is that the families feel the love and support of others.

“Moms are wanting to have some normalcy in their lives, such as cooking or doing laundry. It is definitely therapy for them. Our House is a testimony to the true care of our community. My belief is that if we help the parents and the siblings, we ultimately help the sick child.”

For the past 33 years, the Ronald McDonald House of Winston-Salem has been serving thousands of families daily. To support the House’s efforts, annual fundraisers and events, including Light a Luminary and the Character Breakfast, are held.

“People continue to give back again and again. I can’t say enough about how great our volunteers and the Friends of the Ronald McDonald House are. Many families go back to their homes and hold fundraisers in appreciation for the House and help others as they were helped,” said Mothershed.

Mothershed returned to education and founded the Epiphany Early Childhood Center. She retired for seven years after being the school’s director for 19 years. Her retirement didn’t last long. Her latest adventure is being the owner of Mimi’s Fine Consigns, where a portion of the profits from certain products are donated to the Ronald McDonald House.

“Operating the shop brings many interesting and wonderful people into my life. My son inspired me to share the joy and love he gave so generously. I know he would want me to say thank you to our community from all the thousands of families whose lives you have touched. This wonderful community is the heartbeat of the Ronald McDonald House of Winston-Salem and its Family Rooms,” said Mothershed.

For more information about the Ronald McDonald House and for volunteer opportunities, visit: