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Repaying kindness

John Simmons | May 16, 2018

Canadian veterinarian Jim McDonald with a friend.

Jim McDonald was in high school when he decided his love of animals was guiding him toward a career as a veterinarian, but there was a problem. His parents' farm in rural Canada was struggling, and there simply wasn't enough money to send him to college. Then his guidance counselor suggested McDonald contact a local service organization called Kiwanis for help.

He did. The Kiwanis Club of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, loaned McDonald CA$800 per year for his six years of college.

“That may not seem like much now,” McDonald says with a laugh, “but this was the 1950s, and $800 was a lot of money.”

Armed with the support he needed, McDonald completed his education and headed to Indianapolis, Indiana, to begin his first job as a working vet. Three years later, he returned to his beloved Canada with a wealth of experience and something far greater: co-worker and wife-to-be, Pat Fine. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair that would produce four children, eight grandchildren and a world of happy memories until his wife’s death four years ago.

The couple opened Northland Animal Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie. It was there that McDonald began thinking about how he could give back to the organization that had supported his dream.

“I wanted to somehow repay Kiwanis for everything they had done for me,” he says.
The Kiwanis Club of Lakeshore, Sault Ste. Marie had recently been chartered and, on February 7, 1962, McDonald officially became a Kiwanian. Over the next 55 years, he would serve as the club's president and the district's lieutenant governor. He would be named Lakeshore's Kiwanian of the Year twice, recognized by Kiwanis at the national level with a Mel Osborne Fellowship  and at the international level with a Walter Zeller Fellowship. He also has been recognized with the Legion of Honor Award.

McDonald’s work on behalf of the world's children includes raising money to buy bed kits for Sleeping Children Around the World and helping his club meet its financial commitment to The Eliminate Project. He also serves as the liaison to Lakeshore’s sister club in war-torn Ukraine, the Kiwanis Club of Kiev.

“We are helping out by sending gift packages and money … to give  them some love and happiness,” McDonald says.

“Jim is such an inspiration to us all,” says David Shier, a past lieutenant governor, three-time Lakeshore club president and current president-elect. “He is the first to volunteer to make our community a better place to live, and his kindness and thoughtfulness make his personality so warm that you just can't help but want to work with him. If someone asked me what makes a great Kiwanian, I'd say ‘Dr. Jim McDonald.’”

“I wouldn't have had the career I did – a career that I enjoyed every minute of – without Kiwanis' help,” McDonald says, “and I am so grateful for everything they've done for me that I'd spend another 55 years, if I could, just to repay them somehow.”

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