Our guest this week is Jim Mullen, a disabled Chicago Police Officer who was shot and catastrophically injured in the line of duty, leaving him a ventilator dependent quadriplegic.
We’ll hear how Jim’s life has changed, how his injury has affected him, his wife and his daughter (who was only 7 months old at the time), about his hobby of buying and selling vintage muscle cars, how he has started marketing and selling his mother’s delicious apple sauce recipe through Mullen’s Food Company, now available at Amazon, Walmart and other national retailers.
It’s a fascinating and uplifting story about gratitude and making the most of life, in the face of severe adversity, here on this week’s Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Website – http://www.mullenfoods.com
Email – Mullenfoods@outlook.com
CPMF – https://cpdmemorial.org/
LinkedIn – https://www.linkedin.com/in/jim-mullen-4797b010/
CBS Reporter – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ei74KnRvcQ4
Tom Couch: Special thanks to Horizon Therapeutics for sponsoring the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Working tirelessly to research, develop, and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics’ mission at horizontherapeutics.com.
Jim Mullen: I responded to a call of shots fired where an offender was firing out his back window at the passing el train. He was shooting at the trains going by. During that call, we tried to gain entry into his property. The offender opened the door. He had fired two shots, and one struck me in the right cheek—I was an instant ventilator dependent quadriplegic.
Tom Couch: That’s our guest this week, Jim Mullen, a former Chicago police officer who was shot and injured in the line of duty. We’ll hear how Jim’s life has changed, how his injury has affected him, and how he has started marketing and selling his mother’s applesauce, now available at Amazon, Walmart, and other national retailers. It’s a fascinating story, and one you’ll hear on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. Say hello now to host David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the Dad to Dad Podcast, fathers mentoring fathers of children with special needs, presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: Now, let’s hear this fascinating conversation between Jim Mullen and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: I’m thrilled to be talking today with my longtime friend Jim Mullen of Chicago, who’s the father of one adult daughter, a food company entrepreneur, and a disabled Chicago police officer who was catastrophically injured in the line of duty and is a ventilator dependent quadriplegic. Jim, thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Jim Mullen: Oh, thank you, David. It’s a pleasure. I appreciate the opportunity.
David Hirsch: You and your wife Athena have been married for 29 years and are the proud parents of Maggie, who’s 25. Let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Jim Mullen: Well, I’ve always grown up in Chicago. Originally I lived near Hamlin Park, which is basically the Belmont, Damon area. And then eventually I moved out further west with my parents to their other home, and I’ve lived in the Forrest Glen Sauganash area for basically most of my life since I’ve been about eight years old.
David Hirsch: So did you have any siblings growing up?
Jim Mullen: I did. I have one sister, Patricia, and we’re close—she’s five years older than I am. We get along pretty well most of the time.
David Hirsch: Good to hear. Thank you. So, out of curiosity, what does your dad do for a living? What’s his background?
Jim Mullen: Well, my dad was also a Chicago police officer. He was a retired police sergeant. He actually joined the department right after World War II. In 1946 he came on the job.
David Hirsch: And did he have any other work experience other than as a Chicago police officer, or was that his entire work experience?
Jim Mullen: No. Originally he was a heavy equipment operator, or machine remover. And before that he actually had been working at Stagg Field down by the University of Chicago. And he didn’t realize it at the time, but he was actually setting up some of the equipment that they were using for the atomic bomb.
David Hirsch: That’s pretty dramatic.
Jim Mullen: Yeah, I mean it certainly was a difficult time for everybody back then, I’m sure.
David Hirsch: Well, my recollection, just based on your age, your dad’s age, was that he grew up during the depression.
Jim Mullen: That’s true. He did. He was born in 1922, and he had a pretty rough life. Nobody wanted an extra mouth to feed during the depression. And he bounced around from a couple different families. His parents had some challenges, so it wasn’t so much of a nuclear family back in the day. So he moved around with different families. He had run away a few times. So my dad did not have an easy road whatsoever.
David Hirsch: I do remember you telling me something about a Rin Tin Tin dog story in his youth.
Jim Mullen: Oh, yeah. So my dad grew up here, more the Lincoln Park area. He lived in an apartment on Clark Street, and he used to play with this dog that he referred to as Rin Tin Tin. Later I had come to find out that the dog was actually the sole survivor from the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. So my dad lived there during a wild time, boy, back in those days.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Two brushes with history there, with the atomic bomb in World War II, and then with the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Thanks for sharing. So I’m sort of curious to know, how would you describe your relationship with your dad?
Jim Mullen: I would say, when you’re growing up as a kid, it’s sometimes challenging. I mean, he was a great dad. He took me fishing. I was never wanting for much of anything. But he also had a pretty volatile temper, and so that certainly strained our relationship over the years. But that’s why I guess you have to have dads, because otherwise kids can run amuck and do things they’re not supposed to do.
So, basically he was a great dad and we had a great relationship. Even more so, we got closer over the years, and especially after I got hurt, I owe him my life. He really watched over me after I had suffered this gunshot injury, and he was by my side every day, along with my wife and my mom and my sister and everybody else in my life.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So my recollection was that you went to Northeastern Illinois University, you had a degree in economics, and that early in your career you worked in electrical sales. What was it that motivated you to go from that type of work into the Chicago Police Department?
Jim Mullen: Well, I started working for a company called F&G Electric. My best friend’s father had owned the company, and it was warehouse work. I was a big guy, and so we were moving all kinds of conduit and wire around. I started there when I was 16 years old, and then I kept my job through school.
I was getting along okay. I mean, I didn’t see a super bright future there for me. I wasn’t making a lot of money at the time, and the police department was in our family. My sister was married to a police officer. My dad was a retired Chicago police sergeant. And it was a good job with good pay. And I think I’ve always been kind of destined to that career just because of my interaction with family and friends of my father that we met with over the years. I was kind of a natural for getting into it.
David Hirsch: So my recollection was that Athena, your wife, actually joined the Chicago Police Department a couple, three years before you did.
Jim Mullen: Correct. That is true. She’s the older woman in my life, and she joined about a year and a half before me. And she had a very great career herself. And really we’ve been blessed by our careers. I was very happy. I miss my job every day. It’s unfortunate that I can’t do what I used to do. I was really pretty good at it. But some things in life change, and you just have to roll with those changes.
David Hirsch: So were you married before you each started at the Chicago Police Department, or did you meet through the Chicago Police Department?
Jim Mullen: We met at work. By the time I got shipped out to a district, I believe it was late May or early June of 1990. And then I just happened to see her in the hallway, and she caught my eye. At one point one of my field training officers introduced us. And so one day we just happened to go out on a date, and that’s where it all started for us. We had a good thing going. That’s for sure.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. So I’m sort of curious to know, prior to your catastrophic injury, did you have any exposure to disability or special needs in your family?
Jim Mullen: No, not really. No, not that I can think of. Through the police department though, being in the 24th district, I did have some exposure there because Misericordia is located at Devon and Ridge, which is within our district. So I spent quite a bit of time in that particular area, or any time they needed help with anything. They had fundraisers, so that was basically my brush with people that had Down syndrome. Currently I have two friends that both have Down children, and they’re wonderful children. So that was my previous experience with people with disabilities.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well thanks for sharing. So what were the circumstances that led up to this fateful situation that you find yourself in? What was the nature of the call that you were on, and what transpired?
Jim Mullen: Well, I was working in the 24th district on 8th, what we refer to as a tag team or a plain clothes team. We respond to a lot of different calls, but especially emergency calls. Like shots fired call, or a person is shot, is a pretty extreme emergency, especially for our tag team. I responded to a call of shots fired, where an offender was firing out his back window at the passing el train, or subway as other people might know it—ours is elevated. And he was shooting at the trains going by.
And during that call, we tried to gain entry into his property, which didn’t happen at that time. So as we regrouped and pulled back, the offender opened the door. He had fired two shots, and one struck me in the right cheek, and I was an instant ventilator dependent quadriplegic.
David Hirsch: Yikes. Well, do you remember a lot from that day, or did you black out and then sort of come to your senses in the hospital? What was it like?
Jim Mullen: No, I still don’t remember much of anything from that day. And the injury itself has certainly caused me to suffer memory issues, even going back further, so I have a short term memory issue. I also have a bit of a facial recognition issue. But I’m making do, and doing the best I can with the situation.
When my one partner showed up on the scene, he saw me laying there. He thought he was gonna help me get up. Like, “Hey, Mullen, get up.” And I was laying there, and he said I was laying there with just one little hole in my cheek and a halo of blood behind me. He started CPR right away and started working on me right away. And fortunately, the fire department was just several blocks away, so when they got the call, they were pretty quick getting there.
I was intubated right on the scene, and quick actions like that. You never really expect to be in a situation like that. Your partners you have so much fun with—you don’t expect them to respond in an emergency situation, at least an emergency medical situation like that. But they did what they could for me, and I owe them a great deal of gratitude. That’s why I’m still here today.
David Hirsch: Yeah, it is really remarkable to sustain an injury like you described. I’m sort of curious to know, what was the recovery process like, and how long did it take?
Jim Mullen: Well, the first hospital they took me to right away was St. Francis in Evanston. And it’s almost like they took me there to see what happens, to see if I was gonna live or die, because they didn’t know at the time what to expect. And then the next day we transported me down to Northwestern ICU, and that’s when they all started working on me and really started proactively trying to keep me alive, and started making plans for me at that point in time.
David Hirsch: So do you have any recollection for how long you were in the ICU, or at the hospital for that matter?
Jim Mullen: I really don’t have a lot of memories. I know that they took me, lights and sirens, from Evanston down to Northwestern and blocked every intersection. I thought that was nice of them. They blocked every intersection going from Evanston all the way downtown into Chicago and got me down there and stable.
I was under sedation in the ICU. I do remember waking up, because when I woke up, my jaw was wired shut, and I was on a ventilator. So I wasn’t able to speak at all or communicate. So the only thing I could do was blink.
Now, David, I have a bit of a sense of humor, but at that point in time, they were trying to communicate with me. They have what they call a spell board, and the first words that I spelled was “cheap seats.” And they couldn’t figure it out. Because they had me by the door where everybody kept coming in and out, waking me up and everything else.
David Hirsch: Oh, it’s amazing that you could maintain your sense of humor in that dire situation that you’ve described, but it’s testimony to your will to live and just the character of your personality.
Jim Mullen: And one other thing. I spent almost…let’s see, I was there from October until almost December. Then late December they started transferring me over to the Rehab Institute of Chicago. And unfortunately, I had suffered a few setbacks, so I used to go from the Rehab Institute back to ICU. I did that a few times, because I had suffered a heart attack and had some other medical complications. But overall, I was just starting to become more stable in January, and that’s when I was spending most of my time in the rehab hospital.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, thanks for sharing. It doesn’t sound like it was a straight line as far as your recovery. It sounds like at some level…and I don’t mean to trivialize it by saying two steps forward, one step backwards, or maybe two steps backwards, one step forward. It sounded very precarious.
But thinking back on it, you were married for a few years. You had just had a daughter less than seven months before your catastrophic injury. I’m wondering what some of the fears going through your mind were, as a young husband, and a young parent for that matter.
Jim Mullen: Well, it’s kind of funny that you ask that particular question. People asked me during that time if I was afraid, and quite frankly, I really wasn’t. I never had the feeling or thought that I was gonna die, nor was I afraid of dying at the time. I just thought, “Hey, today’s another day, and we’re gonna swing the bat and keep going.” And I didn’t really realize the gravity perhaps of the situation, because of the drugs they might have been giving me or who knows what.
But I never really had the thought of, “Oh my gosh, this is gonna be the end of everything.” I never had that. I had a roommate at the time when I was at the Rehab Institute, and that gentleman was in an ambulance and sustained the same similar type spinal cord type injury during an accident. And unfortunately, Frank didn’t make it. But I never had that fear or issue. I still don’t know why. I mean, I know I’m kind of precarious. I know I’m very stable now, but let’s face it, I’m still breathing out of a scuba tube here, and it’s held on by a rubber band.
So I don’t know. Maybe I’m at peace with something like that. And the other good thing is, the one thing with being in the police department is we certainly rally to support our own. I knew that, God forbid, if I did die, that they were going to be able to take care of my wife and daughter. That’s a pretty amazing insurance policy that most people who get up every day and walk out the door don’t have.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, that sense of family, the community, being part of the Chicago Police Department, is what I heard you talking about. And I’m wondering, was there some meaningful advice you got along the way that has helped you put your situation into perspective?
Jim Mullen: Well, you know what? During my time in the Rehab Institute, I received two visitors. Well, I received quite a few visitors, more than just two, but two special visitors. There was a disabled detective from New York that came out to see me—his name escapes me right at this minute—along with a priest by the name of Father Mike. And unfortunately, both those gentlemen are now deceased. But they were just letting me know that I’m gonna be okay. You’re gonna come through this, and life will still go on, and you’ll be okay.
And I’ve been very blessed. This is gonna sound maybe a little strange to some people. I mean, I’m not overly religious, but I know there have been a lot of people out there praying for me. So, I’m just thinking that perhaps some words got through or something, because for me to be in this situation, I’m very lucky to have survived as long as I have.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, you’ve got something going. You haven’t met your destiny yet. I’ve known you for the better part of two decades, and I’ve never heard you complain. I’ve never heard you have a pity party for yourself. I know it’s not easy to do some of the things that you’ve had to endure
And at the risk of focusing on the negative, I’m wondering what some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered are, perhaps first as a husband, and then as a father.
Jim Mullen: Yeah, that’s a tough question. There’s a lot. Ever since that day, I’ve never been able to hug my child or hold my kid or my wife, which is difficult to say the least. I would say just everyday survival. Nobody knows how to be disabled. It’s a learning process.
It’s almost like a part-time job. You don’t know. Every day’s a little different. It takes me hours to get ready. I get a certain level of frustration. Some days it can be challenging. I’m trying to be more realistic with people. I mean, let’s face it. I mean, I certainly do have my bad days. I try to limit those, but over the years, I’ve had quite a few that have been a little bit more challenging than others.
But for the most part, I’ve tried to make the best of what has been a very difficult situation. We’ve learned to live with it. I have great medical care, I have great people around me that have basically done whatever they can to keep me as healthy as I can and to allow me to do any crazy thing that I decide to get out of the house, or start doing some things that maybe most people would say, “You gotta be crazy.” But I have a certain zest for living, and I like keeping that particular zest for living.
And I still have dreams. I mean a lot of things affect me, especially now as I’m starting to get older and see my life, that I’m not going to attain certain things that I thought I was always going to do or wanted to. Traveling is a bit of an issue, so I don’t travel as well. Just having people in your house 24 hours a day, as close as I am to these people, it’s still different. But for the most part, like they say, if life gives you lemons, make applesauce.
David Hirsch: Well, we’re gonna get to that in a moment. Did you think there’s a turning point, as far as trying to put your disability into perspective and find your groove, if you will, your ability to communicate so effectively like you can now? Was it difficult at the beginning? Were there some turning points that you can look back and maybe connect some of the dots now?
Jim Mullen: I think technology’s played a really big role for me. I use a program called Dragon Naturally Speaking, and that’s how we’re communicating today. The computer age and the computers have helped my life, to communicate and entertain myself a great deal.
Medical equipment itself has made a big difference. There’s a machine here called the cough assist machine, so if anybody out there knows anyone that’s on a ventilator, I don’t suction. That’s a very awkward, painful, challenging thing to have to do all the time. But I have a machine called a cough assist that’s really increased the quality of my life. That’s one thing I give credit to.
My sister and my mom just happened to be reading the paper about a Mr. Emerson and learned about that cough assist machine, and that thing’s really changed my life. It gives me a lot more freedom and flexibility to get out and do things. I mean, as far as being paralyzed from the neck out of being out a ventilator, I have a very, very high quality of life. So I’m able to eat anything that I want. I can’t drink anymore.
And that’s one thing I will tell you I do miss having a few pops, because being of Irish descent, I can’t help myself. And being an old Irish cop, still would love to have a few beverages, and it certainly would help the stress levels and relaxation levels a little bit. But unfortunately God said, “Nope, you’re gonna live this ride sober.” So that’s what it’s been. And that makes it a little bit more challenging, but we’re doing the best we can.
David Hirsch: Well, thanks for sharing. I’m sort of curious to know what impact your disabilities had on your marriage, and then on your daughter.
Jim Mullen: Mmm, let’s just say it’s been more than challenging, and it’s not something I would wish on anybody. But my wife is still here, and like I said the other time, making lemonade some days. But it’s obviously challenging. It’s more challenging for me since I can’t do for her a lot of things that I would do. I have to count on a lot other people.
And it’s hard. When you’re a person that does everything yourself, or you’re used to running the show, or you’re used to being in charge, it’s not an easy position to be in when you can’t control some things, like doing things. I see other couples and families traveling, and I would love to show part of the world to my wife and daughter that they haven’t seen. And it just hasn’t been in the cards for me to do that.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for your authenticity. I really appreciate that. So I’m thinking about supporting organizations, Jim. You already made reference to one, the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, now known as the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, which is a state-of-the-art facility. It just happens to be here in our backyard in the Chicago area, and it has transformed the lives of thousands, tens of thousands of people that have been injured, from the time of birth or as a result of an accident of some type like your own.
And I’m wondering what other organizations come to mind. I know that there’s the 100 Club, which was the first one that came to mind, but you reminded me that that organization benefits a lot of individuals, first responders, but not so much for people in your situation, from what I remember,
Jim Mullen: Correct. The 100 Club, which is an outstanding organization, helps first responders that have been killed in the line of duty. So it helps those families and pays for college for kids. But there’s another organization out there, the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, which started after I was injured. But it has been invaluable to my family and myself, my daughter, paying for school, helping us with bills and expenses if we have them.
And they always want to come out and visit and they never forget. They want you to know that you’re always part of the team, and they keep their word. They come out and remember your birthday, and they remember Christmas, and they bring you some gifts. They’re just such a wonderful organization.
If there’s anybody out there, that’s one of my charities of choice is that I love to donate to the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, because they just do such great work for all Chicago police officers.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, let’s give a special shout out to former superintendent Phil Cline, who was the brains behind creating the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, because it is a transformative organization, and I was proud to serve on an advisory board for a dozen years.
Jim Mullen: Well, thank you for doing that, David. I know you did that out of friendship. and I appreciate your efforts there as well.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I have so much respect, not only for you, but for Superintendent Cline and the other individuals, some of which are officers or family members of officers, for doing the work they do. It’s really meaningful.
And there’s a little overlap, obviously, between the 100 Club and the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation, because the 100 Club does support, like you say, families of the fallen Chicago police officers. But it doesn’t really account for what happens to all the other circumstances when somebody is injured or catastrophically injured like yourself.
That’s just not the mission of the 100 Club. And while it does amazing work, I think the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation fills a really important gap and meets an unmet need in the community. It was the vision of Phil Cline that we needed to do something on behalf of families like yours and so many others.
Jim Mullen: God bless them. Right?
David Hirsch: Yep. So let’s talk about some of your interests and other experiences. My recollection was that you worked for CBS. What was that about?
Jim Mullen: That’s true. How crazy is that? I am probably the only ventilator dependent quadriplegic that worked for a national broadcasting company. There’s a gentleman I had met by the name of Joey Hearn. He was a great, great guy, still is a great guy. He’s the general manager of CBS. And he thought that I would be great as a disability reporter at bringing stories of people like myself and other disabled people to the forefront.
And he gave me that opportunity. I used to broadcast live once a month. I loved doing the stories and sharing successes of people like myself that are physically challenged. And it was terrifying though. I will tell you that, and I stressed every time I did it. I was not a happy camper being on TV, but I did it, it was an experience. I met some super nice people. It was a lovely career when it happened. It was really great.
TV Clip: You usually think of a library as a place to be very, very quiet, right?
But CBS disabilities reporter, Jim Mellon, recently paid a visit to one library where adults want to hear learning and laughter.
“Everybody put your hands on your nose.”
At the Skokie public library, kids are encouraged not to be quiet.
What we want people to know is it’s a lively place.
Jim joins us now. And what are what are some of the plans for the future for the library?
Jim Mullen: Well, they’d like to see more people get involved with the program there, but they’d really like to see more libraries get involved in the area so they could have programs all around the area.
“They’ve made it that much easier. They have a model now.”
Jim Mullen: The cool thing is libraries aren’t quiet anymore.
“That’s right. Thank you, Jim.”
Jim Mullen: That was a milestone to have someone like myself on live TV.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, what I was gonna say—just to have some fun, because Joey Hearn’s been a good friend for a long time as well—is, what do Jim Mullen and Oprah Winfrey have in common? Because Oprah Winfrey got her start on CBS when Joey Hearn was the general manager way back when. I think Joe is a visionary and he helped create a lot of opportunities for a lot of talent individuals, including you and Oprah and so many others.
Jim Mullen: Well, I think Oprah did a little better than I did, though.
David Hirsch: Her career took a little bit different turn than your own.
Jim Mullen: Yes.
Tom Couch: We’ll be back with more of the conversation on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast in just a few moments. But first, this quick message. Please help 21st Century Dads gather research on families raising children with special needs by having them complete the Special Fathers Network Early Intervention Parents Survey. A link to the survey can be found in the show notes. As a token of our appreciation, each person, mom or dad, who completes the survey, will receive a Great Dad coin. Thank you. Now back to the conversation.
David Hirsch: Well, let’s switch gears. I know one of our mutual passions is cars, and in your case, vintage automobiles. And I’m wondering, where did that start and how has it evolved over the years?
Jim Mullen: Oh, gosh. I don’t know. I’ve always been a car nut. I don’t know where it comes from. My dad had Oldsmobiles in the beginning, then he moved into Cadillacs. I’ve always been a car guy. I don’t know if it’s the freedom.
I would love to drive. I mean, unfortunately I can’t drive right now, but if I could, I’d jump in a car right now and drive to Florida. I just love to drive that much. I could be on the road for 12, 15 hours at a time, so maybe I missed my calling. I just have always had a passion for them.
And so even when I got injured, I had a 1968 Corvette 427, 4 speed convertible. And boy, I loved that car. And after my injury, we basically sold a lot of things, because they weren’t sure how long I was going to survive. But once I knew things were a little better, I got a ‘79 Z28. That was the car I used to have in high school.
I tried that out for a while, and then I got into Oldsmobiles, convertibles. I love 442 convertibles. I’ve had a bunch of those over the years. What we do is we put a net underneath my body here in my wheelchair. I have a bar and a lift system in the garage. And what we do is we lift me out of my wheelchair and we drop me in the passenger seat of a classic car or convertible. I can’t use a hard top.
I like to refer to those as my summer wheelchairs, because four wheels are four wheels are four wheels as far as I’m concerned. And so I’ve still got a couple cars. I look for cars every day. I am just a car nut. I can’t help myself, and I don’t know what I’ll be getting this spring, but I’m sure it’s gonna be something very sexy and exotic.
David Hirsch: So when you say you look every day, that’s online right?
Jim Mullen: Correct. Yes, that’s true.
David Hirsch: And you’ve bought and sold quite a few cars over the years, even since your disability?
Jim Mullen: Yes. I would say probably 40 or 50 cars over the years.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Have you ever been out to the Volo Auto Museum?
Jim Mullen: Oh, sure, sure. Yeah, I’ve, sold a few things there. I’ve looked around there. Oh, for sure.
David Hirsch: Yeah. That’s a fun place to go for anybody that has an interest in vintage cars. It’s a trip down memory lane in certain respects.
Jim Mullen: Yeah, I still have a couple. Right now I still have one Blue 442, and I have a joint venture with my sister because I couldn’t afford it myself. But I happened to come across, a couple of years ago, a 1959 Cadillac convertible. I mean that’s like the top of the car collecting world as far as I was concerned. And I would drive that around. I drove that around for a couple summers. It’s was a lot of fun, although very terrifying, I must tell you, because you’re so paranoid somebody’s gonna run into you or something. It’s scares the hell out of me.
David Hirsch: Yeah, maybe that gets your juices going.
Jim Mullen: And the car doesn’t have any seat belts either.
David Hirsch: What are you worried about getting injured, Jim?
Jim Mullen: No. Yeah. I mean, what else can happen at this point? No, no. I mean, we’ve been in a few accidents over the years in these cars. It’s happened. I’ve ridden home on countless tow trucks, flatbeds. We break down, overheat, run out of gas. I mean, let me tell you, it’s been an interesting life, driving around during the summer.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well thanks for sharing. It’s obvious you have a passion for cars, and it’s a reminder that even though you can’t drive the cars, it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. That’s what I say.
Jim Mullen: Right, exactly. But you know what? I’ve gotta get outta some of these older things and get into something newer that’s got more reliability, let’s put it that way.
David Hirsch: Okay, so let’s switch gears and talk about your applesauce company. I’m sort of curious to know, how did the idea for starting a company come about, and how did that transpire?
Jim Mullen: Well, one day I was going down to Northwestern. I have to obviously go to the doctors a little more than everyone else. And so I was down at the cardiologist, and they couldn’t fit me in their room for some reason. So they sent me down to the basement and I did my treatment down there.
And during that time I was with a lady who started telling me about her barbecue sauce company. I think the procedure was probably a half hour, and so you chatted with whoever is with you. So she told me about that barbecue sauce company, and it intrigued me so much that I came home that very night and started my own food company.
And the reason I did that is because I still want to be a productive member of society. Maybe I don’t want to be forgotten, or I don’t know what the term is, but I want to be viable.
My mother Audrey was like a self-taught chef and used to have dinner parties every weekend. And so I was blessed with having everything homemade when I grew up. And one of the things that my mother made was applesauce. And so when I went into the refrigerator, there would be an old Miracle Whip or an old Hellmann’s mayonnaise jar, and that was our applesauce. It wasn’t a store bought item. And she did that with a lot of different things, not only the applesauce, but dressings and everything else.
And so kind of being the jokester that I am a little bit, we always would sit around and tease mom around the holiday. We would say, “Oh mom, this is all so amazing. We should bottle it.” Well, that’s what I did. I said, “I’m gonna bottle it.” And so I just did it kind of as a surprise after that particular procedure. I think the following year I received 40 cases of product. I designed the label, I found a manufacturer, and gave it to my mom, and showed it to everybody, and passed it out to everyone.
And there’s a little store down the street called Happy Foods where my mom shopped. And really that was my only goal at the time was to get it on the shelf so she could see it when she shopped. I would just say that was about 14, 15 years ago. So things have really pretty much spiraled from there. And now we’re dealing with some pretty big retailers out there. And it’s kind of special to see and know where this may go down the road, and if this will be a legacy that I can leave behind for my daughter or something in the future, who knows.
David Hirsch: So was there a breakthrough, like a certain retailer that helped you get to the next level? Or what was it that helped you build the company?
Jim Mullen: I would just say over the course of all these years, it’s been a lot of people, that have come and gone from my life or are still friends, that have given me a leg up, shall we say. I had a friend whose father worked at Treasure Island. So Treasure Island is a local group of about seven stores here, and that was like my first big break to get into Treasure Island.
I was able to get some product delivered to a famous restaurant here called Hackney’s. And I was selling to those guys, and that gave me a lot of credibility. And I mean, David, I used to go out to the manufacturer, pick up the product in my handicap van, come home, put it in the garage, and go out and make deliveries every once in a while.
I mean, I’ve been out there doing it myself, obviously with the assistance of Billy and my nurses and everybody. Everybody helps me out doing it. But I mean, I’m out there. I was out there hustling, man, trying to get this thing off the ground for a while.
David Hirsch: So Treasure Island was there toward the very beginning, and Hackney’s.
Jim Mullen: Yep. And so was Jewel. Jewel’s been a great partner and a great friend. There was a guy named Jim Seidler who gave me a break. He heard about my story. I had written a letter to Jewel, and they gave me an opportunity. And Jewel was really the big break. From there, friends helped me find another manufacturer, so we came up with a bigger unit that was a better value. And now I’m on my third co-packer, and these guys are really phenomenal. I’m thrilled with them, and we’ve got the best applesauce product on the market today.
David Hirsch: So what are some of the other names of the retailers where somebody can find the Mullen’s Applesauce? And remember, we have a national program.
Jim Mullen: Well, we have a very large I would say regional footprint, but we are expanding. I’ve picked up some very key accounts lately, so we’re moving to the east and southeast, in some areas with a company called Food Lion. And I’ve just also started shipping to Walmart. So we’ve got a nice footprint with 220 stores with Walmart, that’ll be coming out through the Midwest.
We sell online at mullenfoods.com. We also sell through Amazon. I just keep trying one customer at a time and one store at a time. And that’s how I got to where I am today.
David Hirsch: Yeah, well, it is an amazing story. And one of the things I heard you mentioning before is that it’s not all about you making money for yourself. But you’re quick to acknowledge that you didn’t get to where you are by yourself, and that there’s some organizations that you’d like to help benefit from the success that you’ve experienced. And I know that one of them, like you said earlier, was the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation. And I’m wondering if there’s any others that are the beneficiaries of the success of Mullen’s Applesauce company.
Jim Mullen: I tend to stay focused. I mean, I will donate to almost any charity. I try to stay somewhat specific to first responders and veterans charities, but if there’s somebody out there, like right now, unfortunately, with this situation we just had in Kentucky and these tornadoes. I feel so bad for those people. So if there’s something I could do to donate down there or send product or something like that to help those people.
That’s one thing. We are Americans. We all like to help each other, and it’s amazing that we just can’t get our politics straight. Because if it was somebody on the side of the road that was broke down, 90% of us would stop and try to help. You know? And it just seems like, I don’t know why idolatry gets in the way of that. I don’t know.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, very well spoken. I’m thinking about advice now, and I’m wondering if there’s advice you can provide a dad who maybe isn’t able to do all the things that he had envisioned for his children or with his spouse. What advice can you offer?
Jim Mullen: That’s a tough question. You do the best you can. We’re all dealt a certain hand, and this happens to be the hand I’m playing right now. And you have to make the best of it, and do the best you can for your family, whether that’s financially or emotionally, or….
For men I think it’s more financial. We want to make sure that they’re safe and secure, and if we’re not gonna be there for them, that they’re going to be taken care of. So for me, that’s one of my goals, things that I wanted to focus on, to know that there’s some sort of safety and security there for them.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. So is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
Jim Mullen: It feels like right now, in the city of Chicago, that the Chicago Police Department, that’s the father that’s out there that’s being somewhat absent right now because of the administration. Nobody’s disciplining anybody. It’s a free for all out there right now.
And that’s what you’re gonna get if you don’t have a father in your life to tell you no. Or you don’t listen to your parents about stealing or drinking or drugs or driving fast and all the things that they try to keep you safe from, because you’re gonna get in trouble. You may go to jail. Nobody cares anymore. And it’s ridiculous. I don’t know how to fix it, but something has to be changed here because this city is gonna go into the dumper here pretty soon, the way things are going.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well there is the lack of father involvement, right? The whole idea behind creating the Illinois Fatherhood Initiative and then some of the work that we do with the 21st Century Dad’s Foundation is to address that issue of father absence.
And I think that there is an extra burden placed on the police departments here locally, and around the country for that matter, when there’s the fracturing of the families. There’s a lot of young men, all different ethnicities, that are growing up in these father absent homes in urban, suburban and rural communities, and it’s really created challenges that go well beyond what we’ve experienced in the past.
And I don’t know that there’s a simple solution, other than trying to make sure that we strengthen all the families from this point going forward, so there’s fewer and fewer of these children, young men and women for that matter, who are experiencing this issue of father absence. Thank you for emphasizing that.
Jim Mullen: No, I really do appreciate this opportunity. Thank you for letting me promote my applesauce company. I think people will like it. It’s really amazing to see how big it’s gotten to this point where I may be over a thousand stores here pretty soon.
I’m starting to finally give myself some credit. I’m getting over this Irish Catholic guilt and I’m starting to say, “Hey, I guess I’m doing okay.” So I feel lucky, and I want to thank everybody who’s listened this long, and I wish them all the best, and if there’s something I can do for somebody out there, I’m always glad to email or talk, if I can help.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, I love your spirit, Jim. Thank you. Let’s give a special shout out to Phil Cline and our friends at the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation for the great work that they do.
Jim Mullen: Absolutely.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about Mullen’s Applesauce Company or contact you, what’s the best way to do that?
Jim Mullen: It’s just our website, mullenfoods.com. And you can always drop me an email, email@example.com.
David Hirsch: We’ll be sure to include that in the show notes so it’ll make it as easy as possible for somebody to follow up. Jim, thank you for the time and many insights. As a reminder, Jim is just one of the individuals who’s part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father, or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own, please go to 21stcenturydads.org.
Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation as a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free to all concerned. Would you please consider making a tax acceptable contribution? I would really appreciate your support.
Jim, thanks again.
Jim Mullen: Absolutely, and thank you for all you’ve done for the Chicago community and your organization as well. It’s so needed out there, and I’ll just leave it at that. Thanks again.
David Hirsch: Absolutely.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast. The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process, new fathers with special needs children match up with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support other dads. To find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if you’re a dad looking for help, or would like to offer help, we would be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com/groups and search dad to dad. Lastly, we’re always looking to share interesting stories. If you’d like to share your story or know of a compelling story, please send an email to david@21stcentury dads.org.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast was produced by me, Tom Couch. Thanks again to Horizon Therapeutics, who believe that science and compassion must work together to transform lives. That’s why they work tirelessly to research, develop and bring forward medicines for people living with rare and rheumatic diseases. Discover more about Horizon Therapeutics at horizontherapeutics.com.