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Release Date: 
Friday, December 31, 2021

Remembering John McDonald

John McDonald
John McDonald

T he HFC community mourns the passing of Local 1650 president and emeritus HFC faculty member John McDonald. He passed away on December 30, 2021.

McDonald dedicated his entire career to the College, serving students, fellow faculty, and our community for more than 50 years.

McDonald is survived by his wife of 16 years, Denise McDonald, and his four children, two step-children, and several grandchildren.

McDonald is remembered as a tireless advocate for students and faculty and for the connection between the College and its community in Dearborn. He often said, “Henry Ford College is Dearborn’s College.” McDonald served as the president of the HFC Federation of Teachers, Local 1650, for an unprecedented 43 years and worked at HFC for nearly 53 years.

When McDonald joined the faculty of HFC (then Henry Ford Community College) in 1969, he did not plan to spend his entire career at the College.

“I had fellowship offers to pursue a Ph.D. in the U.S. and overseas. These were rescinded because I was subject to the Vietnam War draft. I did not serve in the military, but I have the highest respect for those who sacrificed and served,” he said. “I soon saw that a career spent teaching working-class, first-generation, and immigrant community college students would serve our community and country, and give students the opportunity to achieve, as HFC and its faculty had done for me.”

“President McDonald was the consummate teacher, including teaching me about many topics,” said HFC President Russell Kavalhuna. “I learned a lot from him, and I am grateful for that. His knowledge of the College and community were invaluable during the years we worked together. He worked hard on behalf of students and faculty, and he will be well remembered at Henry Ford College. John was a good man. I am better for having known and worked with him.”

Fighting for fairness and equality

An alumnus of Detroit Catholic Central High School, McDonald was a student at HFC, attending from 1964-66. He transferred to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. He began teaching at HFC in 1969, focusing on 19th century American literature and English composition.

“I had the good fortune of being hired by and learning from the founding faculty of HFC as they were concluding their careers,” recalled McDonald. He often spoke of how impressive it was that this College was founded during the Great Depression, a time when resources were limited, and education was not widely perceived as the pathway to the middle class that it is today.

McDonald’s involvement in Local 1650 began shortly after receiving tenure in 1971. He expressed gratitude to the generation preceding him, who established the union in what McDonald believed was a hostile environment that could have meant a risk to their careers. They welcomed him and showed him the ropes.

Under McDonald’s leadership, Local 1650 negotiated strong contracts featuring shared governance, community service, wages, post tenure review, distance education, intellectual property, and professional development.

As a member of the HFC English Department, McDonald served on curriculum, accreditation self-study, strategic planning, and facilities planning committees throughout his career. He co-chaired advocacy campaigns for nearly 20 operational and capital improvement ballot proposals, including local millages that helped fund the College.

In 2018, to celebrate of McDonald’s 40th anniversary as president of Local 1650, his fellow officers in the 1650 union dedicated the Library of Labor Studies on the first floor of the Eshleman Library on the main campus, in his honor.

Advocacy extended beyond HFC

McDonald’s involvement did not end at the local level. Since 2012, he served as the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) National Vice President. He was most recently re-elected in 2020. AFT is the second largest teachers’ labor union in the nation, representing 1.7 million P-12 and higher education faculty and support staff, nurses, and government employees.

McDonald served as the AFT-Michigan Vice President for Higher Education from 1978 and the AFT Higher Education Program and Policy Council (PPC) from 1998.

“It is almost unheard of for a president of a relatively small local union to reach this level within the AFT,” said Eric Rader, External Vice President of Local 1650. “It speaks to the great esteem and respect his national colleagues and AFT President Randi Weingarten have for his professional expertise. This College and its students benefitted every day from having John as the president of Local 1650, and we all are better off for his dedicated and ongoing service.”

McDonald’s wife, Denise, is the Chair of the HFC Foundation Board and is a valued member of our community.

Memorial service, Jan. 16

Information about how to attend the public memorial in person or on Zoom is here. RSVPs are requested for in-person attendance.

Memorial website: please send remembrances

We invite everyone to share your personal reflections about John McDonald’s life through this form.