By Paul Farhi and Reilly CappsWashington Post Staff WritersThursday, November 6, 2003; Page A01National Public Radio will announce today the largest donation in its history, a cash bequest from the will of the late philanthropist Joan Kroc of about $200 million.WEOS-89.7 FM /90.3 FM in Geneva and 88.1FM in Ithaca is the Figner Lakes’ affiliate of NPR.The bequest from the widow of the founder of the McDonald’s fast-food chain both shocked and delighted people at NPR’s headquarters in Washington yesterday. It amounts to almost twice NPR’s annual operating budget. “No one saw this coming,” said one person.The nonprofit organization, which will disclose details of the bequest at a news conference this afternoon, called the donation the “largest monetary gift ever received by an American cultural institution” in a brief announcement to its staff yesterday.The gift was such a surprise to NPR officials that they were uncertain what the money would be used for. The organization’s board is expected to meet in the next few weeks to decide what to do with the windfall. An NPR spokesperson declined to comment yesterday.NPR, best known for its daily news programs “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” cut back on some of its music and cultural programs earlier this year, and there was speculation yesterday that Kroc’s money could be used to restore those offerings. It could also be used to expand NPR’s news programs, which are heard by about 22 million people weekly.Speaking generally, Michele Norris, a co-host of “All Things Considered,” said any cash infusion is welcome at an organization that is perpetually on tight budgets. “What we do every day is a miracle on the order of loaves and fishes with such a small and dedicated staff,” Norris said.Kroc, 75, died of brain cancer on Oct. 12 in San Diego. She had been a longtime listener of NPR’s local affiliate, KPBS, but had no formal association with NPR or history of funding it. People at NPR said yesterday that she had expressed admiration for NPR’s coverage of the events leading up to the war in Iraq and its reporting of the war itself.Her gift to NPR is one of several that flowed from her estate. Last week the University of San Diego and the University of Notre Dame announced they each had been given $50 million by Kroc’s estate. The donations are the largest either university has ever received.In 1998 she gave $25 million to USD for the establishment of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice. Notre Dame hosts a similar institution, the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, which was established in 1986.With a long history of philanthropy, Kroc has donated to individual public radio stations in the past. In 2001 she gave $3 million to KPBS to help the station build a new studio. KPBS spokeswoman Nancy Worlie said that her station also would announce a gift today. She would not confirm that the gift came from Kroc, who lived much of her life in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego.Forbes magazine estimated Kroc’s worth at $1.7 billion and ranked her No. 121 on its list of the nation’s wealthiest people.Joan Beverly Mansfield was born in 1928, the daughter of a railroad man who was often out of work during the Depression. Still, he made sure his daughter received piano lessons, and eventually she became a piano player in a St. Paul restaurant. She met Ray Kroc in 1957 when he was dining, on business, and caught her eye. In his autobiography he called her a “blonde beauty.” Though she was 25 years younger, the two fell in love and eventually married. The couple had a daughter, Linda Kliber, who could not be reached for comment yesterday.When Ray Kroc died in 1984, she took control of the San Diego Padres, which her husband had purchased 10 years earlier. And though Ray Kroc had been committed to philanthropy, opening the Kroc Foundation in Chicago to support medical research, his wife took giving even more seriously.She gave more than $90 million to the Salvation Army, the largest donation that organization had ever received, to build a 12-acre community center that opened in June 2002. She also helped build the St. Vincent de Paul Joan Kroc Center for the homeless, a palliative care center, and the Kroc-Copley Animal Shelter, all in or near San Diego. She was also a major benefactor of the Carter Center of Emory University in Atlanta, and in 1987 she gave $1 million to the Democratic National Committee, at the time believed to be the largest single contribution to a political party in U.S. history.During its most recent fiscal year, which ended in September, NPR had an operating budget of $103 million and broke even despite the cost of covering the war in Iraq. Despite gains in listeners, its income has grown slowly over the past three years. In fiscal 2001, NPR lost about $4 million.About half of NPR’s revenue comes from public radio stations that pay annual dues based on the size of their audience. The balance comes primarily from private donations and corporate contributions. The organization receives less than 1 percent of its funding directly from federal tax dollars. The federal Corporation for Public Broadcasting supplies about 15 percent of the budgets of NPR’s member stations, however, which then pay some of that money to NPR.Staff writer Roxanne Roberts contributed to this report.