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The Benevolent Burger Baron of Boulder County

Bob Charles's Decades of Commitment to Strengthening His Community

Article by Tony Firestine

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Bob and his wife Judy, managed, and later owned, the first McDonald’s restaurant on 28th St. in Boulder, beginning in the late ’60s. Bob soon became known as the “Burger Baron of Boulder County” and eventually grew his business to thirteen other locations. He successively became a co-developer of the original Happy Meal, a trailblazer of the double drive-thru concept, a co-founder of Ronald McDonald House and a creator of scholarships for his McDonald’s employees.

When asked about McDonald’s new and successfully-hyped Adult Happy Meal concept, Bob says he thinks it makes sense “because there’s a whole other generation of people who grew up on McDonald’s." 

"I used to have a lot of fun talking about what we ought to do for an Adult Happy Meal,” Bob says.

He notes his previous career in the fast food business was a great springboard for community activity and for people to get acquainted.

When Bob and Judy retired, they wanted to perpetuate the sense of hospitality and community they had built through their McDonald’s locations. They’ve carried out this commitment through their generous dedication to many philanthropic endeavors in Boulder County over the years, and they have made an extensive effort to support their community through several different avenues and organizations.

The Charles’ support of CU-Boulder has been integral to the respective university departments' successes. Their love and past experience with music played a part in the gift of an endowed chair to the School of Music in 2001. Bob played the euphonium in high school and college and Judy played the piano. 

“Music, for me, I have it going at the house here all the time, and I think it’s just a basic part of life,” says Bob. 

Judy graduated from the CU-Boulder School of Education in ’59, which contributed to the decision of another endowed chair to the respective School in 2004. Other contributions to CU-Boulder include gifts to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the College of Business and the CU Athletic Department.

One of the largest impacts the Charles' have made is through their assistance to create the Imagine! Foundation, the fundraising arm of Imagine! Organization, a Colorado nonprofit that helps to integrate those with developmental, cognitive and physical challenges into their communities. The Charles' charitable gifts have helped to provide and support numerous programs within the organization, including the development of two SmartHomes in Boulder County. 

These homes were the first of their kind and were built to design and test technologies that allow individuals with intellectual, physical and developmental disabilities to live more independently. The homes include several smart technologies, including integrated computer systems that provide detailed cooking prompts, induction heating units to maximize safety and barrier-free lifts to help assist from bed to wheelchair and to help increase individual mobility. These first SmartHomes have inspired other similar organizations to create and expand on technologies to help provide independence to those who need it most and to also help provide support for the effectiveness of their caregivers. 

The 22nd annual Imagine! Celebration, the organization’s yearly charity event, is being held on February 4th, 2023 at the Marriott Hotel in Westminster. Tickets and sponsorships are currently available to be purchased online at ImagineColorado.org.

Bob’s impact on his community through his leadership and genuine caring and kindness is evident not only through his years of gift-giving and philanthropy but also through his genuine ability to instantly connect personally with anyone he meets. When asked about his generosity, Bob humbly replies, “I’m not very good at tooting my own horn. You just pay attention and say, ‘Where might I be able to do the most amount of good?’” 

The Charles' have clearly done plenty of good and have made an immeasurable and positive impact in their community through their selflessness.  We don’t mind tooting Bob’s horn for him.

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