Joe McDonald remembers that night in Philadelphia like it was yesterday. Joe’s father gathered 7-year old Joe and his siblings aged 5, 8, 9, and 10 together. Brokenhearted, he told them their mother had just passed away in childbirth. The family got on their knees and prayed together.
Joe’s father was a good man and a very hard worker. He knew, though, he couldn’t work his night job and take care of all the children on his own. And so Joe and his brothers went to the Milton Hershey School and his sister went to live with relatives because, at that time, the Milton Hershey School did not take girls. “I cannot imagine the decision my father had to make, what he went through,” says Joe thoughtfully. “I look at my own three children, and I see how brave he was.”
Joe had a hard time emotionally in school, and he struggled. “I missed my mom, and I missed my dad,” remembers Joe. “I spent a lot of time crying.” Joe even ran away from school once. “I just started walking towards Philadelphia. But I didn’t get too far!”
Joe will never forget the kindness shown to him by his fifth-grade teacher, Miss Ruth Bean. She often kept Joe after school to wash the chalkboards. During that time, Miss Bean spent a lot of time talking to Joe, helping him with his work and consoling him. It was she who inspired Joe to eventually become a fifth grade teacher himself. “She was a caring, loving teacher,” said Joe. “I tried very hard to be just like her.” Over the years, Joe continued to advance his career, becoming a high school teacher and, ultimately, a school administrator in Ewing Township, New Jersey.
Joe and his wife, Sue generously give scholarships every year to the Milton Hershey School for teachers. The McDonalds have been married for 56 years, and Joe says that along with the Milton Hershey School, it is Sue who has made him the man he is today. “I feel so blessed and wonder about where I’d be today without those two influences in my life.”
“You don’t understand or appreciate what people do for you while you are growing up,” says Joe. “I was given so much during those seven years at the Milton Hershey School – I feel like I should give something back.”
Joe is generous, supporting and serving on the board of a number of not-for-profit organizations. He is characteristically humble about all he does. “I’m just fortunate,” he explains, “A very lucky individual who has the chance to give back.”
The true benefits of giving are realized not only for those who receive, but also for those that give. The residents of Willow Valley Communities give of themselves in many ways every day, throughout the greater community. Their generosity is an outward illustration of the very fabric of Willow Valley and creates a more vibrant and close-knit community for all.