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Ronan Hall of Fame Profile: Dr. Joe McDonald

by Gale Decker
| January 19, 2023 12:00 AM

Dr. Joe McDonald will be inducted into the School District #28/Ronan Hall of Fame in the Class of 2022 as a “Distinguished Community Member.” Teacher, coach, smoke jumper, tribal councilman, and college president are all job titles that describe his many vocations and accomplishments.

A graduate of St. Ignatius High School, McDonald began his college education at Western Montana College, now the University of Montana Western, in Dillon where he became a starter in football, basketball and baseball, and earned his first degree in 1953. To help defray schooling costs he spent summers working as a smokejumper based out of Missoula.

He continued his education at the University of Montana where he earned degrees in Education and Educational Leadership in 1965 and 1981, respectively. He was honored by the university in 2005 with an Honorary Doctorate in Human Letters and was recognized as one of the “Fifty Greatest Grizzlies.”

Following coaching and teaching stops at Plevna, the State Industrial School, Hamilton, and Northern Montana College, McDonald came to Ronan in 1968 as an administrator and coach. In 1977 he resigned his Ronan position and embarked on a dream of establishing a tribal community college on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Without funding, buildings, faculty, or students, McDonald began his quest.

Originally a branch of Flathead Valley Community College, the new school, Salish Kootenai College located in Pablo, gained initial accreditation and became self-governing in 1981. McDonald retired in July of 2010 having served as the first and only president in SKC history. The college had an enrollment of nearly 1,200 students when he stepped down.

Numerous other awards have been bestowed upon McDonald during his long and illustrious career in education and athletics. In 1974, he received the Sullivan Award from the Montana Amateur Athletic Union for his contributions to amateur athletics and was inducted into the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008.

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