Holly and Todd McDonald fell in love with Asheville in 1999, after a shared history of visiting the southern mountains as youngsters. The couple married and started a family in Houston, Texas, but tragedy struck when their first-born, Cora, was affected by a rare neurological disorder, Tay-Sachs disease. They lost their beautiful Cora before she was able to run and play with her younger siblings, Tessa (5) and Callum (3)—but not before they had built fond memories with Cora in Asheville.
The family bought a house here, quickly connecting with others who’ve experienced the loss of a young child. “We found respite,” says Holly, whose grandmother was born at Rabun Gap in north Georgia. “We already had a strong connection to the mountains – it feels like coming home.”
May 23 is the fifth anniversary of Cora’s death, but the McDonalds are fully rooted and giving back to the community that wrapped around them when they were in crisis. That includes a significant gift to support the construction of Karen Cragnolin Park along the French Broad River.
“A park leaves a legacy—and we wanted to do it in Asheville,” where the McDonalds are taking their turn to offer respite to families dealing with the devastating loss of a young child. “It just makes so much sense. How could we not?” asks Holly. “We’re helping ourselves and others make good memories in a green and beautiful place. It’s part of Cora’s legacy.”
Todd, with a background in real estate, believes that “property transfers are about problem solving: delivering win-win solutions for people and the broader community.” Remediating a former brownfield felt like a perfect fit. “It’s not just a one-time benefit—this gift will give multiple times by restoring a property that will serve generations to come.”
Holly, a social worker, highlights the equity concerns motivating their support for the new park. As a graduate student, Holly worked to assist distressed refugees–mostly people of color–fleeing Hurricane Katrina and forced to shelter by the thousands in the Houston Convention Center.
That experience left its mark on the young social worker. “It underscored the basic reality that all people deserve the benefits of a clean, healthy environment,” she says. “We’re putting our money where our hearts are—preserving what we can, and fixing what we’ve done wrong to the Earth, helping make sure everyone can enjoy a beautiful community.”
“This is not about us,” Holly told RiverLink. “This is for Cora.”