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October 24, 2011

McDonald named recipient of ULM 2011 George T. Walker Lifetime Achievement Award

Charles Hugh McDonald, better known as “Charlie Mac” to those who know him best, served in a variety of capacities at the University of Louisiana at Monroe for 34 years until his retirement in 2002.

So he would be the first to acknowledge ULM was not just part of his life – it was his life – and in many ways, still is.

Perhaps that is why it seems so fitting that ULM has named McDonald its 2011 recipient of the George T. Walker Lifetime Achievement Award.

McDonald’s devotion to ULM can be forgiven. After all, it was where he met his wife, Kay, of 41 years, and it was a nascent university president, Dr. George T. Walker himself, who gave McDonald, a fresh-faced newcomer to higher education back in 1968, the chance to work on the campus when others were not as enthusiastic.

“Some (of the decision makers) were expressing their concern about my lack of experience,” said McDonald. “And then Dr. Walker asked them, “Well, how do you expect him to get any experience if he hasn’t held a civilian job? He’s been in the Army.”

Soon afterward, McDonald was hired as the first coordinator of student activities, just as the college was going through a major growth spurt in academic programs and infrastructure.

“When that opportunity came up, it was where my heart was,” he said. “It was a homecoming of sorts, and it was where I wanted to be.”

McDonald would eventually be named director of student development at then-Northeast Louisiana University, followed by dean of student affairs in 1992, a title he held until his 2002 retirement from the newly named ULM.

McDonald’s service to ULM may have been marked by its length, but his road to the university was a short and straight line.

He grew up in the small southern Louisiana town of Oakdale, just north of Lake Charles, but his goal and chief aim in life when he arrived at Northeast Louisiana State College in 1960 was to compete as a member of the winning NLSC Track Team.

At the time, the team boasted three world record holders, twins Dave and Don Styron, and John Pennel.

“I arrived on a track scholarship as a sprinter,” McDonald said. “I wanted to be a part of the best absolute track program in the country. I knew I wanted to run with them. It was that simple.”

Another selling point? Field and Track Coach Bob Groseclose, who assured a young McDonald he would work him harder than he had ever worked in his life. It was a philosophy McDonald could relate to.

“I’ve always had to either outsmart or outwork my competition,” he said. “The most success I’ve ever had was based on those three things. I don’t care if it is athletics, a job, or anything else.”

It was an attitude that carried McDonald through several undefeated seasons as  a member of the NLSC Track Team, two years active duty with the U.S. Army, where was commissioned as a second lieutenant following his 1964 graduation, and the completion of his Master’s of Education a year later.

From those auspicious beginnings, McDonald was hired for his “dream job” at his alma mater, where part of his duties involved the oversight of students who were responsible for bringing some of the biggest musical acts to town.

Great musicians, including such performers as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, Ray Charles, Kenny Rogers and Charlie Daniels, just to name a few, descended on the newly built Fant-Ewing Coliseum throughout the late seventies, into the eighties and early nineties.

“You name them, we had them,” McDonald said, proudly. “There were only two other schools in the south doing what we did then, and that was Texas A&M and Auburn.”

Those achievements were marked by numerous others in higher education. In 1976, McDonald was a charter member of the Louisiana Association of College and University Student Personnel Association. Though still just a “kid” to the much older employees who surrounded him at first, by 1990, he had earned the respect of his colleagues and was serving the organization as president.

McDonald also served as president of the Southwestern Association of Student Personnel Administrators, representing colleges and universities in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. He was also on the Council of Vice Presidents for Students Affairs with the University of Louisiana System and was a three-time winner of the Student Government Association Faculty-Staff Award.

But of all his achievements and contributions, perhaps none hold as much personal meaning to him as when he was notified by Dr. Lavelle Hendrix, who once served as a graduate assistant in McDonald’s office, that a scholarship was being established in his honor.

“The beauty of something like that is that I am able to enjoy what it brings to others while I’m still alive,” McDonald said.

As for the Lifetime Achievement award, McDonald insists it is not about him.

“It’s about the many people that make up your life and career,” he said. “It’s the faculty, staff, but most especially, the students, who make a university so special … and it really boils down to two simple words – thank you.”

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