MSU Billings College of Business

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MSU Billings' Inaugural Hall of Fame Class of 2014

Sam McDonald

Sam McDonald The late Sam McDonald was known by many as a successful businessman and standout athlete.
But those closest to him speak of his big heart.


“He and my mom always felt it was important to help those in need, and help the community and region,” his son Greg, of Billings, said.


In particular, the McDonalds helped countless young people get through college and get started in life.

He once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”


The founder of Wendy's of Montana, McDonald donated millions of dollars to causes and organizations across the state. His generous contributions to Montana have made an enormous impact, and continue to do so through his philanthropic legacy.


McDonald was born in Great Falls on April 5, 1935, and moved to Billings as a young boy with his family. He graduated in 1954 from Senior High, where he was an all-state and all-America football and basketball player as well as an American Legion baseball player.


McDonald married his high school sweetheart, Judy Covert, in 1957.


He received a finance degree in 1959 from Oklahoma State University where he played basketball on a scholarship for the legendary coach Henry Iba.


After working in the oil industry in Texas and Kansas, he moved to Denver to get a start in the real estate business. With their two children, Greg and Deborah, he and Judy moved back to Billings in 1966, where he joined Covert Realty, which was owned by his father-in-law, Paul Covert.


In 1976, he bought the company from Covert, turning it into Wendy’s franchises. Wendy's of Montana now has 23 restaurants throughout Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska, outperforming the national average.


“He was a great, out-of-the-box thinker,” Greg said. “Even though he was very educated, he was very independent and liked to do things his own way. And, it turned out alright for him.”


In 1982, he graduated from the Harvard School of Business’ Owners/President Management Program.


The McDonald family in 2000 established the Wendy's Foundation, which gave out hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, including $3,000 to each high school in every city in which there was a store owned by Wendy's of Montana.


“They really focused on education and youth,” Greg said, who is now the president of Wendy’s of Montana.


A gift McDonald was most proud of, Greg said, was the $1.4 million donation to the College of Business at Montana State University Billings in 2002.


He is also well-remembered by his $400,000 donation to put synthetic grass on the field at Daylis Stadium in 2006. It is now known as Wendy's Field at Daylis Stadium.


McDonald 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.


The standout athlete, successful businessman and noted philanthropist died Feb. 20, 2012 at the age of 76. He was proceeding in death by Judy six months earlier.


Sam and Judy McDonald are survived by their two children and four grandchildren, who called him "Daddy Sam."