CHISHOLM — The region is grieving Bob McDonald, a legendary coach, and a retired history and gym teacher at Chisholm High School, who died Wednesday at Fairview Range Medical Center. He had tested positive for the coronavirus. He was 87.
McDonald graduated from Chisholm High School in 1951, where he excelled at sports, before serving as the local boys basketball coach from 1962 to 2014. The basketball court at the school gym is named Bob McDonald Court in his honor. He also coached track and taught history and physical education.
As Minnesota’s most winning basketball coach, he garnered 1,102 wins and three state championships in 1973, 1975 and 1991, and was nominated into the National Coaches Hall of Fame and Minnesota Coaches Hall of Fame. He was known to be modest, crediting his success to the basketball players, not his coaching.
“I had good players in Chisholm,” McDonald told the Tribune Press in 2019, when he was chosen as a co-grand marshall for the local Doc “Moonlight Graham Days parade. Ron Macynski, a community volunteer who shared the honor of Grand Marshal said he was “honored” to share the title of Grand Marshal with McDonald.
In his tenure at Chisholm High School, McDonald volunteered countless hours each winter, running a free youth basketball program on Saturday mornings. At the sessions, he talked to the youth about the importance of education and the pitfalls of at-risk behaviors, such as consuming alcohol, or experimenting with drugs.
While many students remember McDonald as a coach and teacher, his own family are mourning the loss of their beloved father.
McDonald is survived by his wife, Carol; children: Mike McDonald, Paul McDonald, Sue Tesdahl, Tom McDonald, Judy Racek, and Joel McDonald and their spouses; 17 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He is preceded in death by his mother, Mary Perkovich and step fathers, Ray McDonald and George Morgando; and his first wife, Darlene McDonald.
“He was a great dad and mentor to many,” Judy Racek told the Tribune Press on Wednesday. “He is finally in Mom’s arms again.” Her sentiments were echoed this past week by her siblings, including an online post by Paul McDonald, who remembered his father as, “a great mentor, friend and father.”
As word of McDonald’s passing spread through the mining community of about 5,000 people on Wednesday, people shared memories of the impact he left on his hometown.
Dr. Janey Blanchard, Chisholm School Superintendent, in an email to the Tribune Press on Wednesday, recalled meeting McDonald when she first moved to town in 2017, when the court at Roels Gymnasium was named after him during the CHS All Class Reunion.
“The Chisholm Education Community is saddened to hear of the loss of Coach McDonald,” Blanchard wrote. “Coach McDonald was an important piece of the legacy that is BlueStreak Pride. Mr. McDonald's contribution to education here in Chisholm and in the State of Minnesota can not be measured. His ability to bring out the best in his athletes was legendary. We wish the McDonald family comfort in this time.”
Chisholm Mayor John Champa remembered being a student of McDonald’s for history and gym.
“He was an outstanding citizen — a good family man that raised his children well,” Champa said. “They all turned out to be good citizens of this community as well as the ones that they now reside in.”
The mayor also recalled how McDonald had a way of inspiring students, even when they didn’t necessarily have confidence in themself.
“He’ll be greatly missed by many,” Champa said.
St. Louis County Commission Chair Mike Jugovich, a former Chisholm mayor, said it was an “honor” to play for McDonald as a Bluestreak member. Both Jugovich and his son played for the late coach.
“What I remember most is he taught us so much more than just basketball, it was about being a gentleman, being neat and clean, and being a good sportsman,” Jugovich said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “Basketball is why we were there, but we learned so much more. He taught us so much more about being good citizens.”
Rev. Dan Erickson, a youth basketball volunteer for about 20 years, said he last spoke to McDonald late this summer through a window at a long-term care facility.
“He was a remarkable individual, who lived an amazing life,” Erickson told the Tribune Press in a phone interview on Wednesday. “There are so many dimensions to Bob McDonald besides basketball.” Erickson continued, “Obviously, his achievements were substantial.”
Erickson shared his favorite quote from McDonald, which resulted from a discussion on a suggestion he made on making changes to the boys Saturday basketball.
“He said, ‘Pastor Dan, you’re probably right, but I’ve been doing it this way for 40 years, and I’m not going to change now,”’ Erickson recalled, adding he and McDonald were able to share a little laugh, since McDonald acknowledged Erickson was, “probably right.”
The fact that McDonald was a devout Catholic and Erickson is a Baptist preacher didn’t get in the way of their relationship.
In addition to being a coach, Erickson said McDonald’s life had so many dimensions, including his artistic ability with oil painting, and his travels to Croatia.
Erickson also talked about McDonald’s ability to find humor in just about every situation.
“He was a very bright, very intelligent — an amazing man, really,” Erickson concluded.
Mark Morrison, Chisholm High School Principal and former athletic director at CHS also remembered McDonald as a coach and teacher.
“It’s a bit shocking losing an icon like Coach Mcdonald,” Morrison wrote in an email on Wednesday. “My thoughts and prayers are with the family. I'm just grateful I got a chance to spend a year as the Athletic Director before his retirement.”
Morrison also talked about the impact McDonald had in the community of Chisholm.
“He was born and raised in Chisholm and spent his lifetime as a Bluestreak,” Morrison wrote. “He was also so much more than just a basketball coach. He was well regarded as a teacher by many. It'll be hard to find a Bluestreak that has impacted more lives directly and indirectly than Coach McDonald.”
Richard Aldrich, Hibbing School Superintendent, fondly remembered McDonald from his years working with him as Chisholm Athletic Director and later as Chisholm High School Principal.
“It was a pleasure to serve as Chisholm athletic director and Chisholm High School Principal during the tenure and culmination of Mr. McDonald's coaching career,” Aldrich wrote in an email to the Tribune Press on Wednesday. “His commitment, work ethic, knowledge, and occasionally a witty sense of humor will be sorely missed by all that knew him. Deepest sympathy to his family.”
A public visitation for Bob McDonald is scheduled from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Chisholm. Social distancing and masks are required.
A private family Mass will take place at a later date.