Kenneth William McDonald passed away peacefully, after a 5 year battle with dementia, in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, on January 18, 2024, at the age of 78. Born on April 24th, 1945, Ken was a graduate of Portage Central High School, Class of 1963, and later of Western Michigan University where he earned a BA from the College of Education. While at Western he was active in the United States Marine Reserves – something he was very proud of. After graduating, he moved to Nashville where he was among the first group of teachers to provide Special Education instruction, a government mandate which had only recently begun in US schools. After 3 years he returned to his alma mater, earning the degree Master of Education.
Ken then rose through the ranks in the Kalamazoo Public School System, from assistant principal positions to later becoming the principal of Woodward Elementary and then moving to the same position at the school where he would spend most of his career, Edison Elementary. At Edison he pitched softball every lunch hour, in order to be more present among students and maintain order and safety. One lunch hour Ken even performed the heimlich on a student who he noticed choking. Ken was especially proud to have had the honor of hosting Hillary Clinton while on the campaign trail for her husband, President Bill Clinton, in the early 90's. That school and its students held a special place in his heart for many reasons, not the least of which, the fact that he attended it himself as a child. He spent his final years as a principal for Portage Public Schools at Moorsbridge Elementary, retiring at the age of 55. Following retirement he again returned to WMU as a part-time professor, teaching classes in the Department of Education for approximately 3 years.
As an educator, Ken had his summers wide open, which allowed him to dive into the hobbies that would follow him into retirement. He enjoyed employing his woodworking skills, building birdhouses or outbuildings at his farm, and doing other miscellaneous home improvement projects. He could often be found in his "Bird Brain Enterprises" workshop – a space he also shared with his bar, the "Fly Strip Saloon". He dabbled in microbrewing for a few years and always kept his kegs and fridge stocked for "the boyfriends" as he would teasingly refer to his group of buddies. Ken was a voracious reader, music lover, country boy at heart, and never met a person for whom he couldn't produce a perfect nickname or one-liner . But in retirement he was rarely happier than when he could be found in the back forty, with his beloved K-dog (Kaylee), either on a tractor mowing a path or just for a stroll. Wherever he was, she was guaranteed to be nearby. Despite having loved many animals, big and small, throughout his life – from llamas to horses to cats, other dogs, and chickens – she was his truest and most loved partner in crime.
Another love of Ken's was cruising around the countryside, in Michigan, Tennessee and North Carolina. A favorite place for a Sunday drive during Michigan summers was in Traverse City where his wife Linda and stepdaughters Emily and Betsy had a family cottage. But he probably spent more time cruising around Nashville over the years while visiting his best friend and younger brother Bob. From Tennessee he'd drive over to North Carolina to visit the rest of his family. But in the winter you'd always find him there, in Winston Salem, along with the rest of the McDonalds at Christmas. Over the holidays he was known to be in his "Todds" (aka pajamas) by 6pm and declare it was "bedtime for Bonzos" around 8pm.
Ken was preceded in death by his father Kenneth E. McDonald, his mother Betty J. McDonald (née Nash), his great friend Jack Harrison and his beloved dog Kaylee.
He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Linda McDonald (née Clee), his stepdaughters Emily Griffioen (Mark) and Betsy Harris (Dan), and his grandchildren Nolan and Olive Harris of Kalamazoo. Also surviving Ken are his brothers Bob McDonald (of Tennessee), Ronald McDonald (Lorraine), and Tim McDonald (Janis) of North Carolina, as well as his sisters Sandi (Heath) and Linda McDonald, also of North Carolina. Additional family members include cousins Brian McDonald (Dana), Mike Nash (Linda), Terri Richman (Larry), Cherie Jaworski (George), Connie Griffin (Al), and Chuck Martin. He is also survived by nieces and nephews, Valerie (Bart), Robyn, Stephen, Patrick, Zachary, and Nora along with countless friends, including Dale, Hud, Denny, Mik, Virginia, and Shannon.
In memory of Ken, please have a "morning cowffee" or "afternoon ale", grab a bite of dinner off a neighbor's plate, and in honor of the animal lover that he was, consider making a donation in his name to the Kalamazoo Humane Society (https://www.kazoohumane.org/), or your local shelter.