Ross Presgrave dedicated his life for the benefit of children and families struck down by cancer. Orchestrater of the Ronald McDonald Forster Family Retreat and working on projects 24/7, Ross is an inspiration for all.
Where where you born, Ross?
I was born in Sydney NSW, some time ago … let me tell you!
What school did you attend?
I went to a country town called Canowindra, and St Edwards College is where I was educated. And then came back and did my secondary school at Christian Brothers in Sydney.
When did you make the move to Forster?
I made the move to Forster after being in the entertainment and marketing industry for many years, some 30 years ago. I came up here to do marketing and promotions in beautiful Forster.
What were your aspirations when you were younger?
I was always really a very keen sports person; I played a lot of sport. I wanted to be a sportsman. I played tennis and rugby league and I played that for some time; but my main cause was to get on with life and get involved with people, as I feel that I’m a people’s person.
How did your involvement with the Ronald McDonald Forster Family Retreat began?
Well some years ago, which was exactly 2002, a friend of mine who was the licencee then of the Forster McDonald’s, and myself, we had both been touched by cancer as we both lost our mums at an early age. I, in particular, had a grandson that was struck down with leukemia at the age of 4. He’s wonderful now though – 16 and going like a house on fire. But that gave me the inspiration after being at the Sydney Children’s hospital and seeing all the poor children and families there. I decided to do something for kids, and that’s why we are here now.
The friend to whom you refer was local businessman Adam Sherman. How did you get to meet him?
I used to do promotions with McDonald’s and I was the then president of the diabetes branch here in Forster, which was Australia’s leading branch. I raised lots of money in the Helping Hands programs for seriously ill children. In 8 days of promotion through McDonald’s helping hands with Adam Sherman, we managed to raise around $23,000 here in Forster. We then decided to do something for the kids. Adam sold his franchise to another person, Brian Mollick, and he’s the deputy chair for Ronald’s beach house Forster family retreat.
How much traffic do you see coming through the Ronald Beach House Retreat?
We are running at about a 63% occupancy rate in busy periods, and of course it’s chock a block from the Christmas period through to Easter, but the unfortunate part about it is that while we don’t want children to have to go there, there are so many seriously ill children that we want them full all the time to fulfill their lives with joy. We want to get the message out to people all over the country that these beautiful facilities are here for mums and dads and children to have a break.
I do this 7 days a week, and I just love it. Being able to get it going and meet all the families; it’s a joy to see them enjoy themselves after all the traumas of being in hospital with illness. We service all children from 0-18. We are lucky to have a wonderful community from Forster and Taree; the people are just so giving and supportive to the charity. I love the people here; I would have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from the generous locals of our area.
So no one pays when they come and stay at the Retreat, is that right?
Not at all! What happens is they make an application and send it to Ronald McDonald house in Newcastle as a formality, as we have guidelines that we must follow. They are assessed and given a code number and then they ring Chris Maconachie at the Forster caravan park and book in a time that suits their family and have a holiday from Monday to the following Monday cost free.
Why do you feel that this particular family retreat can help families?
You only have to sit on the verandah and see the beautiful aqua waters of Wallis lake, and it’s just so relaxing. I’ve had mothers and fathers come down here and absolutely cry and say, “What a relief!” I have lots of letters and cards from the kids and the parents thanking us for such a wonderful facility. Because it just makes them happy; the retreat is out of this world, and it is beautiful. It’s a first class facility.
Now, some people would call you a local legend. How do you feel about that?
Well, I’m not a legend. I just love kids. You know for 20 odd years I sat outside the Amcal Chemist at Christmas time with a red and white suit on and people in the Street would call me Santa. I just love children. All the money we raise here in Forster stays here in Forster and goes to the Family Retreat.
Most rewarding part of your work?
The most rewarding part of my work is seeing the little faces as they come up here. You know they are that excited and they cry when they have to go home, unfortunately. I love to see the joy in their faces – we have lots of toys given to us and a wonderful team of ladies here that do great arts and crafts and they make quilts of love. They have been doing this ever since we founded the retreat at its opening in Nov. 2006 – it’s just something for the kids to remember their stay in Forster.
Who inspires you, Ross?
My grandson inspires me. And the sick kids are also what inspires me to do something for them.
I’m very fortunate that my grandson, now at 16, is a great golfer and in one of the high schools here. He’s going very well; it’s like winning the lotto but 10 times over. But it’s the kids. They inspire me; I just love doing things for the kids and for the people.
Is there anyone you would like to thank?
Yes. You. The community. The ones who want to help and keep helping every day. Also, to two businesses in particular who help the children to smile while visiting the retreat – Steve Martyn, who takes the kids out on the water for a boat ride, and Geoff Bishell from Ozbug, who picks the kids up in a stretch limousine for a cruise along the streets in style. Also, Chris Maconachie from the Caravan Park is a great help to our team, and without him the smooth operations could not be possible.
Also Cooper Smeaton, a brave five year old who received treatment for leukaemia. He is a true survivor and really the face of this foundation.
Thank you Ross.