Meet Your Neighbor
From the July 2012 Thomas Township Newsletter.
We hope you enjoy this new special section of our quarterly newsletter. Our intention is to highlight the lives of some of our residents, people who live next door to all of us. The residents of our community are the key to what makes Thomas Township such a great place to live. We thought it would be fun for them to share their stories with everyone. So with that introduction, our thanks to Mr. Joe McDonald for being willing to be our first attempt.
Few people know that right here in Thomas Township we have a resident who has first place finishes in six Masters Championships for speed skating through 2005. Along with this, he broke four records in Hamar, Norway in 2002 and four more records in Helsinki, Finland at the 15th annual Masters International Speed Skating Games in 2006. All of these achievements while in his 80’s! I personally had the distinct honor of meeting and talking with him and would like to share some of his story.
Joe McDonald, a Saginaw native began ice skating back in the 1930’s. At a time when television did not exist and kids still played outdoors, Hoyt Park was the place to be. Here was the beginning of his love for the sport of speed skating.
In 1933, McDonald competed in his first speed skating race held at the park. His first race was not a success. At that time, skates clamped on and as one of them fell off at the start of the race, McDonald had to finish the race pushing forward on just one skate. But this did not stop him. In 1937, he went on to win the 220-yard, 440-yard, 880-yard, mile and two mile races at the Saginaw meet. In 1939, he won six titles in outdoor events and even competed and won state titles for indoor skating events in Michigan.
At Lake Placid, N.Y. in 1939, Joe was a winner again, setting a one minute and sixteen second time in the half-mile race that still stands as an outdoor world record.
Joe graduated from St. Andrews in 1940. Plans were made for him to begin training with the Olympic team but reality proved otherwise. When the war came, skating ended, at least for that time period. He served his country as a fighter pilot and flew 103 missions in the southwest Pacific.
Returning to the ice in 1956, Mr. McDonald became the coach of the Saginaw Transfer speed skating team. Some of his most memorable experiences at this time was locating ice to practice on. Behind what was then the National Biscuit Company, they dumped their hot water from production. Since it was only maybe a foot deep it froze first. Giving Joe and the Transfer a place to train. As Joe said “we just had to be careful that all the guys didn’t stand together in one place and they kept moving. The ice was so thin they’d go right through and then no more ice.” Most often he coached the team before school started on Day’s Pond. For health reasons, he stopped coaching in the 1960’s. But he was told that exercise could help improve his condition. He continued to skate and rode a bicycle, something he had always done when in training to skate. It was around this time that he took up roller blading and continued the sport for about fifteen years.
He made his return to competitive skating, in the age 70-79 year bracket winning the 300, 800, 1,000, 1,500, 3,000, and 5,000 meter races at the 1995 Masters International Open held in Quebec. Then came the record he set in his 80’s. It was so impressive that the Masters International was actually ready to open a division for 90 year olds if Joe would be willing to participate. He opted not to.
McDonald has been married to his wife Bonnie for 70 years. She has also won a national championship in speed skating and used to share Joe’s passion for skating until an ankle injury in her 50’s ended her skating. They have nine children, 35 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Together they raised six state skating champs.
In the fall of 2011, Joe McDonald was inducted into the Saginaw County Sports Hall of Fame, a fitting honor for such a great athlete.
He still skates three times a week in Midland and looks forward to the possibility of ice skating coming back to Hoyt Park where he’d gladly skate again.
Community Development Department