George O'Leary at Monument for Irish Famine

George O’Leary at Monument for Irish Famine.

While George O’Leary recently made headlines with his $1 million donation to help fund scholarships to the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds’ annual National School of RV Park and Campground Management, the developer of the two Rincon Country RV Resorts in Tucson, Ariz., has also been providing major donations for hunger relief programs.

He recently made a major donation to Sacred Heart Southern Missions of Walls, Miss., which provides food for nearly 30,000 hungry people a year across five counties in northwest Mississippi. The funding will enable Sacred Heart Southern Missions to purchase two more walk-in freezers, tripling its cold storage capacity. The new freezers will not only enable Sacred Heart to store more food but healthy produce, dairy products and frozen meats. O’Leary also plans to provide funding for a new driveway and parking lot for the organization’s food storage facility and other improvements.

“I grew up during the Great Depression,” O’Leary recalled, “and while my family had enough to eat, my mother often shared stories from her grandfather about his family hauling grain to Waterford for export to England during the Irish Famine, and how several of the men he saw sitting along the roadside on the way to Waterford were dead when they came back on the same road a few days later. Dead from starvation.”

Now 91, O’Leary still thinks about the conversations he had with his mother as a child about the Irish Famine. So, when he learned of Sacred Heart Southern Missions’ desire to expand its food distribution program to combat rising food insecurity in Mississippi, O’Leary was eager to help.

“Hunger is a harsh reality in Mississippi. And the problem of hunger is larger and more complicated than not enough food,” said Fr. Jack Kurps, SCJ, executive director of Sacred Heart Southern Missions.  “There is the matter of not having enough nutritious food.

“We have been operating over capacity for some time now,” Kurps continued. “Last year, we distributed more than 1.2 million pounds of food through our pantries. With the skyrocketing cost of fuel, rent and other basic necessities, now more than ever, struggling individuals, families and the elderly poor rely on our pantries to simply survive. George’s contributions will mean that we can provide even more nutritious food such as fresh vegetables, fruits, and meat each month to meet this growing need.”

This isn’t the first time O’Leary has supported hunger relief efforts. In 1997, on the 150th anniversary of the worst year of the Irish Famine, O’Leary challenged guests at his two Rincon Country RV Resorts to donate money to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona in Tucson, which he pledged to match on an ongoing basis. O’Leary and his guests subsequently raised over $300,000 to provide food for hungry people in Tucson over a 20-plus-year period.

George O'Leary

George O’Leary’s donations are being used to purchase new food storage freezers and to make improvements at its food storage facility in Walls, Miss., including rebuilding the mission’s parking lot. Tim Courts, CFO of Sacred Hearth Southern Missions, inspects the organization’s food storage area.

O’Leary, for his part, is happy to help those in need, particularly those suffering from hunger. A true immigrant success story, O’Leary was only 25 when he departed Ireland by boat to build a new life for himself in North America. He didn’t waste any time. Within three weeks of his arrival in Canada, he found work as a heavy equipment operator in Uranium City on the north shore of Lake Athabaska, near Canada’s Northwest Territories.

After obtaining U.S. citizenship, he rendezvoused with his childhood sweetheart in St Paul, Minn. He worked hard, and within a year was living the “American Dream,” having earned enough money working in construction jobs to buy his own backhoe and launch his own construction business. O’Leary didn’t stop there. He went on to develop the two Rincon Country RV Resorts, which earned “Park of the Year” awards from ARVC in 2018. It was the first time in ARVC history that two parks owned by the same person won Park of the Year awards in two different park size categories in the same year.

Last year, O’Leary donated $1 million to the National School of RV Park and Campground Management, which is operated by the ARVC Foundation. O’Leary’s donation will fund full scholarships to the school, which has been renamed in O’Leary’s honor.

O’Leary recently sold his two Rincon Country RV Resorts but continues to work as a consultant to the resorts. O’Leary has spent several years documenting his family history and business biography in a book, The O’Learys of Beechwood, which he plans to release at ARVC’s Outdoor Hospitality Conference and Expo in November.