Howard S. McDonald served as Brigham Young University's sixth president from 1945 to 1949 and is credited with leading BYU through a significant period of growth. He will be honored at Homecoming 2003 Oct. 7-11 as its Founders honoree for taking BYU through this transitional period. McDonald will be recognized at Homecoming opening ceremonies, a family luncheon, and Homecoming Spectacular.
When Howard McDonald took the helm as president of BYU in 1945, his was not the only new face on campus. Veterans returning to school after World War II streamed through BYU's entrance, and a student body that had numbered a little more than 1,500 in 1945 exploded to 5,400 by 1947.
It is not surprising, then, that the highest priorities in the McDonald administration quickly became housing and facilities. The Salt Lake Tribune wrote an editorial suggesting he was the right man for such challenges and characterized the 51-year-old as "old enough to have well-rounded experience" yet "young enough to have the vigor and drive which will help in the leadership of a large and growing institution."
He used that vigor to find additional housing for students, many of whom were sleeping in basement storage rooms, converted coal bins, and other inadequate housing. He arranged for barracks, a heating plant, and other structures to be transported from the Ogden (Utah) Arsenal. The government agreed to transport these structures to BYU and set them up as family units and dormitories. Within a few months Wymount Village came into existence and provided housing for 200 families and 300 single students. In 1948 work was completed on a women's dormitory, Knight-Mangum Hall, and some adjoining temporary housing was remodeled into Social Hall.
Classroom space also became critical, and McDonald was able to secure other buildings that were turned into a large classroom, a bookstore, a cafeteria, an industrial arts building and a health center.
With temporary structures in place, McDonald turned his attention to the future and pushed for the construction of many buildings that would help BYU become a great university. He initiated a science center, improved sports facilities, more dormitories, and a library, plus buildings for fine arts, a student union, administration, family life, education and business. With postwar inflation, most of those dreams would have to be accomplished by a later administration, but the Carl F. Eyring Physical Science Building was approved and it practically doubled the building space on campus. It was the largest academic building in the Mountain West at 167,000 square feet and BYU's first building to have an elevator.
Additionally, during his tenure McDonald persuaded 80 educators to join the faculty, and secured scholars with doctorates whenever possible.
As critical as these building and faculty needs were, however, they were not the primary reason for McDonald's invitation to be president. Ernest L. Wilkinson, who succeeded him, said that as a former stake president and a man of mature faith, McDonald could bring a strong religious emphasis to the school. President J. Reuben Clark, then in the First Presidency of the Church, cautioned the ascendance of spiritual truths over secular truths, and said, "We look confidently forward to an increased spirituality in this school, for spiritually we move onward or we recede; we never stand still. We must go forward every day, becoming a little more certain, a little nearer to perfection."
It was a charge McDonald took seriously, and in his relatively short tenure, he achieved several significant accomplishments.
-- Whether BYU would survive was a continual problem and McDonald fought so diligently for its continuance that he averted the last real threat to the University.
-- He convinced the Board of Trustees that BYU needed a strong building program. In addition to the Eyring Science Center, the George Albert Smith Fieldhouse was approved, though not completed, during his administration. His other plans were realized during the Wilkinson Administration.
-- He established a modern method of caring for students' health needs. McDonald was honored in 1955 when the school's new health facility was named the Howard S. McDonald Health Center. The building, replaced with a new center in 1998, is now home to the Office of Information Technology.
-- He inaugurated Student Personnel Services, an area that supervised admissions, athletics, attendance, scholarships, awards, orientation, health services, housing and publications.
-- He brought organized religion to campus, and after petitioning the General Authorities, two branches were started for students.
-- He established an honor code.
Following four years at BYU, McDonald left the university to take a position as the president of the State College of Applied Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. Prior to coming to Utah in 1944 to be superintendent of Salt Lake City Schools, he had worked in the public school system in California from 1938 to 1944. His legacy is best summed up by Carl F. Eyring, who spoke at McDonald's official farewell. He said McDonald had met each of his challenges "with understanding, enthusiasm and vigor," adding "You have given of yourself without stint. The results are on record in the form of brick, wood and stone, increased staff and salaries, improved scholarship, better counseling, more interest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and in general, more abundant living. There is also a record in our heart which no one can gainsay."