Dr. Joe McDonald


Words from Senator Jon Tester, February 11, 2011:

"Dr. McDonald recently retired as president of the Salish and Kootenai College after a remarkable career and a lifetime of public service. Joe's career, indeed his entire life, is an inspiration not just to people living on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, but also to thousands of students and others he touched over the years. As the local newspaper reported in a downbeat tone, ``Dr. McDonald retires. They say all good things must come to an end.''

Dr. McDonald, a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, was born in St. Ignatius, MT. His good family gave him self-confidence and other tools to become a role model in an increasingly divided world. Western Montana College recognized Joe's potential early. They gave the gifted student athlete a scholarship to play football and baseball, and the platform to fly. Joe turned the opportunity into an associate degree in education in 1953, a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Montana in 1958, an M.S. degree from UM in 1965, and an Ed.D. in 1981. Higher education gave him the foundation to make history.

After college, Dr. McDonald mentored many reservation youths as coach, principal and superintendent at Ronan High School from 1968 through 1976. While there, Joe began to bridge a divide he saw between Indian and non-Indian students. Wanting to do more than just complain, he created the first Native American Studies program in Montana Public Schools. Today, all Montana public schools include a curriculum entitled ``Indian Education for All.'' Although many good people had a hand in it, we can thank Joe McDonald for leading the way.

Success as a teacher, coach and administrator gave him dreams of higher education on the Flathead Indian Reservation. In the 1970s, he began to lay the foundation for SKC. And in 1977, Congress passed the Tribal College Act. The new law opened the door for Dr. McDonald to create SKC, but didn't include any money to make it happen.

With no money, no classrooms, no teachers and no students, Joe became president of SKC and served for over three decades. Beginning with literally nothing, he built the institution from the ground up. Educators around the Nation now credit him for building SKC into one of the, if not the flagship tribal college in the United States. When he retired last year, the college had a 130-acre campus with modern infrastructure. Administrators can now thank him for growing the school's endowment from just $5 in 1978 to more than $8 million today. They can also thank him for the $26 million operational budget, 58 faculty members and more than 180 operational employees who educate 1,100 students. Remember, none of it existed before Dr. Joe McDonald took the initiative to create it.

And believe it or not, he did even more for his community. In addition to growing perhaps the most dynamic tribal college in the Nation, Dr. McDonald also served as an elected representative on the CSKT Tribal Council from 1974 to 1982. In terms of coaching, Joe is among the best. He has coached track, football and basketball--mentoring high school and college students, at-risk kids and groomed college athletes. Not only did his athletes succeed in sports, but because of his lessons, they succeed in life, too.

Joe married Sherri, the love of his life, when he was 19 years old. During their remarkable time together, Joe and Sherri raised four children, nine grandkids and six great-grandkids. As an example of his keen perception about people, he recognized how valuable she was. Throughout the years, he selflessly gave her credit for everything he accomplished.

Some of his career and personal highlights include: 1951, Montana Class C, All State Basketball Team; 1959, Montana Class C Basketball Coach of the Year; 1989, National Indian Educator of the Year, National Indian Education Association; 1996, Montana Governor's Humanity Award Recipient; 2000, Michael P. Malone, Educator of the Year Award of 2000; 2005, U of Montana's Highest Recognition, Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters; 2005, University of Montana Foundation, Selected as one of the 50 greatest Grizzlies; 2008, American Indian College Fund President of the Year; and 2008, Inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame.

He holds honorary doctorate degrees from Gonzaga University in Washington State and Montana State University and was named distinguished alum of the University of Montana and Western Montana College.

Joe served on the Board of the American Indian College Fund, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium Board of Directors, and the Board of the American Indian Business Leaders."