MSU-B gets $1.4 million gift for business school

Sam McDonald Jr., the chairman and CEO of Wendy’s of Montana, outlined three things to do with money:

# Spend it.
# Give it away to family or charitable causes.
# Let the government get it.

On Tuesday, McDonald chose the second option, making a $1.4-million gift to the College of Business at Montana State University-Billings, the largest single philanthropic gift in the 75-year history of the university.

of The Gazette Staff

The gift was given on behalf of the Sam E. McDonald family. The money will pay off the remaining mortgage on the building housing the College of Business and create a fund to support academic excellence at the business school.

About $1 million will be used to pay off the mortgage loan within the next four years, said Marilynn Miller, the president and CEO of the MSU-Billings Foundation. The remaining money will create the Judith Covert and Sam E. McDonald Jr. Family Excellence Fund.

"Those of you who know me, know that I never make a big investment without thinking it over twice," McDonald said yesterday at a gathering attended by about 200 students, faculty and community members.

The timing is right to make a sizable investment in the business school, he said.

"We believe that this College of Business, located in the largest city in Montana, is in the financial, business, service and medical hub of the region and should and can be the primary business school in the state," he said. "We have all the tools: the population, the infrastructure and the commerce that is already here."

Ron Sexton, chancellor of MSU-Billings, said the McDonald family’s gift sends a message to the community and its business leaders.

"The message you are sending through your generosity is: Montana State University-Billings is critically important to the economy and vitality of the city, state and region," Sexton said.

The gift also signals that the university is worthy of significant investment, he said.

In the past, the McDonald family and Wendy’s of Montana have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support educational causes and other community projects. McDonald serves on the boards of several nonprofit institutions including the MSU-Billings Foundation, ZooMontana, Museum of the Rockies, Billings Area Catholic Education Trust, Rocky Mountain College and the American Legion Baseball Foundation.

In 2000, McDonald established the Wendy’s Foundation, which contributes more than $200,000 annually to charitable causes.

McDonald, a Billings native, was a top high-school athlete. During the press conference, he joked about turning down a scholarship at what was then Eastern Montana College to play basketball at Oklahoma State University under the legendary coach Henry Iba.

After graduating from college, McDonald married his high-school sweetheart, Judith Covert, who is also a Billings native. In 1977, McDonald purchased a franchise and built his first Wendy’s restaurant on Grand Avenue. Today, Wendy’s of Montana owns 19 restaurants in Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.

The MSU-B’s College of Business was established in 1994, but classes were scattered across campus until 1997 when the MSU-Billings Foundation purchased and remodeled a building at the corner of Poly Drive and North 28th Street. This fall, the College of Business has 743 students majoring in business programs.

The McDonald Family Excellence Fund will help the college complete the process of gaining accreditation through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, said Joseph Michels, the new dean of the College of Business. The fund also will help with scholarships, research opportunities and technology upgrades and increase the number of international study experiences available to faculty and students.

Donna Healy may be reached at 657-1292 or [email protected].

Copyright © The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

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