Here's How One Conversation at McDonald's Changed This Historian's Future - and His Family

December 02, 2019

Mike and family

Photos by Marshall J. Betterton -

Mike Bullington is a rock star (of sorts).

As McDonald’s archivist, he serves the entire corporation every day. He’s tasked with sharing the story of McDonald’s with whoever asks – whether it’s the CEO inquiring about a historical brand moment or a franchisee who wants to make a splash at their restaurant’s grand opening. He’s met and befriended legendary McDonald’s figures, including former Chairman and CEO Fred Turner and Big Mac inventor Jim Delligatti. And he’s raised $3,885 for Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC).

So, how’d Mike get here? We thought you’d never ask.

Mike grew up on the southwest side of Chicago in a family with five children (he was the oldest). He eventually left the city to attend Illinois State University, where he received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in history.

Mike in archives

“That old saying for history majors – ‘the past is my future but there’s no future in the past’ – that's not true!,” he says.

After college, Mike worked as an archivist for a large food and beverage company, as well as a Chicago-based medical center. When he joined McDonald’s in 2005, he was the first formally trained, certified archivist the company had ever hired. 

As McDonald’s archivist, Mike works with people all over the business, from brand and operations to legal and investor relations. Every day, he immerses himself in the history of the company and acquires records and artifacts that help tell the brand’s story.

“The archives can’t be a closet of curiosities – they have to be an asset that supports current and future business,” Mike explains.

A life-changing conversation

All the while, Mike raised a family with his wife, Jennifer, in Chicago’s northwest suburbs. The couple had three children of their own before a casual conversation with a McDonald’s colleague in 2007 changed their lives forever.

The colleague spoke about his time visiting orphanages in China through a unique partnership with RMHC. While most are familiar with the three core RMHC programs— the Ronald McDonald House®, Ronald McDonald Family Room® and Ronald McDonald Care Mobile®— many are unaware that RMHC has previously awarded grants to other organizations to help improve the health and well-being of children and their families around the world. Through a partnership with an organization already operating in China, RMHC was able to directly enrich the lives of 1,200 orphans, while also creating an initial RMHC presence in that country. Today, RMHC China operates a Ronald McDonald House program in Hunan Province.

Photos by Marshall J. Betterton -

When Mike later spoke with his wife about the conversation, they realized they both shared the same dream: adoption.

“It was the most impactful conversation of my life,” Mike says.

Months later, Mike and Jennifer adopted their son, James, from a Chinese orphanage that had ties to RMHC. Their first meal as a family was at a McDonald’s in Beijing.

“We enjoyed the familiar taste of home – a first for James!” Mike says.

Obviously, RMHC has a special place in Mike’s heart. To show his appreciation, Mike began running marathons with Team RMHC and fundraised on behalf of the Charity.

He’s fundraised three times in total for RMHC. Unfortunately, due to injuries, he’s only been able to actually run two Chicago marathons for the organization. 

“I ran a marathon in suburban St. Louis after I recovered from a hip labrum repair/double pelvic stress fracture,” Mike explains. “Yes, these are all running injuries – not to mention a heel stress fracture!”

In 2015, despite being sidelined by a hip injury, Mike raised $1,135 for RMHC. During the 2018 Chicago Marathon, he raised $1,420. In 2019, he raised $1,330.

All together, Mike’s fundraising efforts have provided 48 overnight stays for RMHC families around the world.

McDonald's pencil and original log book

It’s fair to say that Mike Bullington has “ketchup in his veins.” He’s amassed a huge collection of McDonald’s artifacts, including his personal favorites: Ray Kroc's Des Plaines restaurant log book and a pencil donated to the Archives by the family of Ray Kroc’s first franchisee: Art Bender. The pencil is the only promotional piece from the McDonald brothers contained in the Archives.

One McDonald’s artifact he’s still hunting? A particular gold and white uniform worn by female restaurant crew members in the late 1960’s.

“If anyone has one, please let me know,” he laughs.

You too can support RMHC this holiday season at

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