Entrepreneur, community leader, and family man, Thomas Warren McDonald Sr. was born in Saginaw in 1929 to Dr. Francis McDonald and Mary Fordney McDonald. As a young man, Tom attended St. Andrew High School, where he received his first taste for leadership as captain of the football team, and where he met his future wife, Ruth Bader. 1951 was a milestone year for Tom, for it was the same year he graduated from the General Motors Institute, with a degree in Automotive Marketing, following his time at Assumption College. It was also the year he married Ruth and began working at Saginaw’s Garber Buick, in their Used Car Reconditioning Department.
In 1956 Tom left Garber to join the family business, McDonald’s Nursery, until his father’s demise in 1963, becoming the full owner and manager until 1981. Though he excelled in growing the Nursery which still thrives and carries his family name, Tom reapplied his automotive experience and purchased Garber Pontiac GMC, changing the name to McDonald Pontiac GMC and eventually expanding the brand to include McDonald Ford in Freeland, MI.
As a successful business man and supporter of the growth of Saginaw, Tom’s counsel was often elicited by local businesses and organizations. Some of the groups he served included Citizen’s Bank Board of Directors, Saginaw County Historical Society, Saginaw County Red Cross, Saginaw County Community Foundation, Saginaw United Way, Saginaw Chamber of Commerce, Saginaw Heritage 1976 Bicentennial Celebration, the Metropolitan Saginaw Economic Round Table, Saginaw Union Government Alliance and serving on the Thomas Township Planning Committee for more than 21 years. Seven different organizations elected Tom to serve as their president, including: Saginaw Northwest Kiwanis, Saginaw United Services Clubs, Saginaw Valley Association of Nursery Men, Michigan Association of Nursery Men and Landscapers, Michigan Township Parks Community, the Saginaw Club and the Saginaw Hall of Fame.
Tom’s dedication to Saginaw and the state earned him recognition by Michigan's governors who presented him with the 1985 Michigan Minute Man Award and the 1987 Michigan Leadership Award for Community Service. He was also recognized by the Downtown Rotary Club which named him the Outstanding Citizen of Saginaw in 1993 and the Saginaw Chamber of Commerce, which gave him their highest award, the Robert H. Albert Community Service Award in 1990. In 1994, Tom received the Saginaw County Bar Association Liberty Bell Lawyers Award and that same year, he was chosen as the Saginaw PRIDE Parade Grand Marshall and was welcomed into Catholic Schools’ Hall of Fame. Tom was also inducted into the Boy Scout Hall of Fame and the Fordney Club Hall of Fame and was honored by Junior Achievement and the Boys and Girls Clubs for outstanding community service. In 2002, Tom and his wife, Ruth, were honored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, receiving the Wally and Irene Bronner Spirit of Sharing Award.
Tom also chose to share his experiences and interests with our community, penning a variety of columns for the Saginaw News, including “Behind the Wheel,” “People I’ve Known,” “People I Wish I Had Known” and “Looking Back.” An avid classic auto collector, Tom’s large collection of vintage and rare automobiles were often showcased in Saginaw’s public events and parades, and none he prized more than the 1934 Buick Phaeton which he personally restored. Tom was also Chairman of the Tom McDonald Historic Automobile Foundation and a sponsor of the Saginaw Soap Box Derby, an event he won in 1941. His work for the betterment of our community has left a long legacy that survives and inspires others that have known him to continue his mission to help Saginaw prosper.
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