Samuel Edwin McDonald, Jr., 76, of Billings, passed away peacefully at home on February 20, 2012. He was born on April 5, 1935 in Great Falls, Montana to Mary and Sam McDonald Sr. Sam moved to Billings at a young age when his mother married Billy B. Bowman. He attended Catholic schools through grade nine and graduated from Billings Senior High School in 1954, receiving All-State and All-American honors in both basketball and football. Sam also started on the American Legion baseball team that won State and Regionals. He attended the University of Washington for his freshman year before transferring to Oklahoma State University where he graduated with a B.S. in Business majoring in finance, in 1958. Sam was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and played basketball under the legendary Coach Henry Iba.
Sam married his high school sweetheart Judith Pauline Covert on August 3, 1957 in Jackson, Wyoming. They lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma where their son Gregory was born on April 28, 1958. Upon graduation, he began working for Montgomery Ward in the junior executive training program in Fort Worth, Texas. He joined Champlain Oil Company in 1959 and was transferred to Hutchinson, Kansas where their daughter Deborah was born on March 20, 1962. They moved to Denver, Colorado and Sam entered the real estate business with Koelbel and Company in 1962. Sam and his young family moved to Billings, Montana in 1964 to join Covert Realty, which was owned by Judy’s father Paul Covert. He purchased Covert Realty in 1966 and changed the name to McDonald and Company. In 1976, Sam became a Wendy’s franchisee and opened his first of 23 restaurants throughout Montana and Wyoming. Sam was our Dave Thomas.
He served on multiple local and regional boards. Sam graduated from the Harvard Business School Owner/President Management three year program in 1982 and was a member of the Downtown Billings Rotary Club since 1969.
Sam had a passion for golfing with friends at the Yellowstone Country Club and elsewhere. He enjoyed attending Denver Broncos games and Super Bowls, going to 5 p.m. Saturday mass at St. Thomas the Apostle church with friend Tom Eldredge and having business lunches at the Petroleum Club where his special corner table was always reserved.
Sam and Judy preferred warm climates and spent winters in their homes in Las Vegas, Nevada and LaJolla, California. Their passion for travel led them to many wonderful places including Puerto Rico, Europe, British Virgin Islands, Mexico and the Caribbean. They liked spending time at their home in Red Lodge when Greg and Debby were growing up. Memorable family vacations with their four grandchildren included Disney World in 2002, Christmas in Hawaii 2004 and Easter in Park City, Utah in 2005.
Sam, Judy and the Wendy’s of Montana Foundation supported numerous philanthropic causes including Rocky Mountain College, Boys and Girls Club, YMCA, Zoo Montana, Billings Parmly Library, Alberta Bair Theater, Yellowstone Art Museum, and the Billings Catholic Schools Foundation, among others. His generosity and commitment to improving lives benefited many youth, the arts, athletic and educational programs in Billings and beyond. He was most proud of the Montana State University-Billings College of Business (McDonald Hall) donation and Wendy’s Field at Daylis Stadium.
He was the recipient of numerous professional, philanthropic and civic awards including the Montana High School Association Athletes Hall of Fame, the Wendy’s Founder’s Award, Billings Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement award, and the Phillip Fortin Humanitarian Award from the Billings YMCA.
Sam was preceded in death by his parents and step father and adoring wife Judy on September 22, 2011.
He is survived by his loving family including his half brother Brad Bowman (Susan) of Naples, Florida; daughter Deborah, granddaughters Brynn and Kara; son Gregory (Eileen), grandson Nathan and granddaughter Hailey. His four grandchildren affectionately referred to him as “Daddy Sam”.
We will miss his “larger than life” personality, generous and independent spirit, and his bold and competitive nature. Our family is truly grateful to his many caring, kind and compassionate friends, in-home assistants, nurses, doctors and his longtime assistant Jane Kukes-Penney.
Cremation has taken place. At Sam’s request, there will be no mass/funeral service but rather a “Celebration of Life” reception at the Yellowstone Country Club on Friday, February 24 beginning at 5:00 p.m..
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Montana Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, 3010 IIt1t Ave. N., Billings, MT 59101 or to the charity of your choice.
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