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HFC to rename Student & Culinary Arts Center in honor of John McDonald in August

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John McDonald Student and Culinary Arts Center
President Russ Kavalhuna and John McDonald sitting at a desk smiling at the camera.

The HFC Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename the Student & Culinary Arts Center (Bldg. M on the main campus) after the late John McDonald, the emeritus HFC faculty member who served as president of Local 1650 for 22 consecutive terms (more than 43 years).

The building will be rechristened the John McDonald Student & Culinary Arts Center by the start of the Fall 2023 semester. There will be a luncheon and open house celebrating this milestone on Tuesday, Aug. 22 at noon. HFC employees and guests will have the opportunity to walk through the McDonald Student Center. (More information on the luncheon to come). Following this luncheon and dedication, we will walk over to the Fine Arts Building to dedicate the Rick L. Goward Band Room, and the public is invited.

McDonald passed away on Dec. 30, 2021. He is survived by his wife, Denise McDonald (former chair of the HFC Foundation and current board member), four children, two stepchildren, and several grandchildren.

"I am pleased and grateful that the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to name the Student & Culinary Arts Center in honor of John,” said Denise. “One of the many admirable qualities about John was his loyalty and dedication to the institution where he spent his career striving to make the lives of the students and faculty better. His legacy will not be forgotten."

A well-deserved honor

In his five years at the College, HFC President Russell Kavalhuna had many opportunities to work with, and get to know, McDonald.

“John McDonald's advocacy for the College and community was invaluable for decades. He cared deeply about this College, and he devoted his entire career to its success. He always worked hard on behalf of students and faculty,” said HFC President Russ Kavalhuna. “So it is very fitting that we should name the Student & Culinary Arts Center in his honor. I remain grateful for his knowledge, expertise, and leadership. In addition to his teaching and leadership, he was a centerpiece at community events, including College gala events, commencements, convocations, and many other activities.”

HFC Chair of the Department of Communication & Media Susan McGraw is pleased about the renaming.

“It is most fitting for the Student Center to have John's name forever connected to it, as it was his mission to ensure our HFC students were given the best possible education by supporting our faculty with his whole heart and soul,” she said. “He inspired us to be passionate in our calling as educators and made sure we knew how important this work is. Every day I walk by or through this building, I'll send up a ‘thank you’ to John for his commitment and service to this community and to me personally. And I'll use his name on the building as a talking point for future students and faculty members to ensure his memory and legacy live on.”

Champion of students and faculty for more than 50 years

McDonald – a fixture in the HFC community and a well-respected figure in higher education circles, locally, nationally, and internationally – dedicated his entire professional career to HFC, serving for nearly 53 years.

“This is a great tribute to John McDonald, who was my dear friend and mentor. I’m proud to have known him and worked with him during his long career at the College. John loved HFC and Dearborn. This College and this community are a much better place because of John McDonald,” said HFC political science instructor Dr. Eric Rader, who succeeded McDonald as the president of Local 1650.

When McDonald joined the faculty of HFC (then called Henry Ford Community College) in 1969, he initially did not plan to spend his career at the College, where the majority of its founding faculty members were concluding their careers at the time.

“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,” McDonald said in a 2018 interview.

HFC math instructor Jeff Morford worked with McDonald for more than 20 years.

"John did so much for this College, its teachers, and its students. He dedicated his life to the success of the College for more than 50 years. He taught, he led the faculty union, he was active in community organizations, he lobbied for College millages, and he lobbied for College concerns with state representatives," said Morford. “John was a national leader in higher education policy through his work with the American Federation of Teachers. He was a consistent, positive force moving the College forward for over half a century. I'm glad that the College chose naming a building to recognize his service to HFC and Dearborn. When new teachers, staff, and students see the building name and ask, 'Who was John McDonald?' I'll be proud to answer."

“Punching above our weight”

An alumnus of Detroit Catholic Central High School, McDonald attended HFC 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.

In 1978, McDonald became the president of Local 1650 after being an active member since 1971. He also served as an AFT Michigan vice president from 1978 until his death, as well as a member of the AFT Higher Education Program and Policy Council beginning in 1991. In 2012, he was first elected as a vice president of the AFT (which represents 1.7 million members) at the national level. He was re-elected four times and served in this role until his death.

“John’s leadership roles at the state and national levels of the AFT brought benefits not only to the members of Local 1650, but to the wider campus community,” said Rader. “Few AFT locals of our size have had the kind of influence we’ve had over the years, and John is the reason we’ve been able to ‘punch above our weight.’”

McDonald also fostered within Local 1650 a strong tradition of political activism and community engagement. He played a major role in supporting the Adjunct Faculty Organization, AFT Local 337, when it organized in 2007.

“John McDonald supported the campus, the people on this campus, and the citizens of Dearborn for more than 50 years,” said English instructor Dr. Michael Hill. “We could name the whole campus after John McDonald and his work would still outshine the honor.”

Advocating for the College and beyond

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 successful advocacy campaigns for nearly 20 operational and capital improvement ballot proposals for HFC.

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

“Of all the buildings on campus, the Student Center is the most fitting building to bear John's name, because students benefited the most from his life's work,” said Hill. “I am gratified that the Board undertook this action of their own volition. Their willingness to memorialize John's work also memorializes the integrity of the relationship between the Board and Local 1650 and the work we do together as professionals to make students the center of everything we do.”