Barry McNamara  |  Published April 25, 2023

Return of the Mac

Sig Ep founding father Don ‘Mac’ McKinley plans to attend fraternity’s 75-year reunion in May.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College’s Illinois Gamma chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity is looking forward to its 75th anniversary celebration the weekend of May 26-28.

MAC AND JOYCE: College sweethearts Joyce Chatten and Mac McKinley were wed two days after graduat... MAC AND JOYCE: College sweethearts Joyce Chatten and Mac McKinley were wed two days after graduation and were married for 68 years.Amazingly, one of the chapter’s founding fathers is not only alive and well, but plans to attend.

“I’m looking forward to it,” said Don “Mac” McKinley ’50, who lives just outside Quincy, Illinois, roughly 90 minutes from his alma mater. “It’ll be interesting.”

His mother, Mary Gabby McKinley, attended Monmouth during the first decade of the 20th century, and five of her six children followed in her footsteps, including Don, her youngest.

Still wet behind the ears

“I was born in 1928, and I grew up on a farm in southwest Iowa,” said McKinley. “First there was the Depression, and then World War II came along. So I didn’t go anywhere. I hardly ever left the county, at first because we couldn’t afford it, and then because we didn’t have gas or tires during the war. So when I got to Monmouth, I was one of the hayseed-iest guys you’ve ever seen in your life. I was green, and really not dry behind the ears. Once I got on campus, I experienced a very sharp upward learning curve. I was one of only about 15 non-veterans in my class.”

When McKinley matriculated in the fall of 1946, many of the male students were coming back from the war. Greek life was still hugely popular for Monmouth men and women, but those who had served in the military wanted something different, with no hazing and no nonsense.

“When I got to Monmouth, I was one of the hayseed-iest guys you’ve ever seen in your life. I was green, and really not dry behind the ears. Once I got on campus, I experienced a very sharp upward learning curve. I was one of only about 15 non-veterans in my class.” Mac McKinley

“There were three fraternities on campus – Theta Chi, TKE and ATO – and they wanted a whole gob of those veterans coming in,” said McKinley. “As we went into it, it became obvious that they were pretty anxious to get started on hazing. But you’re not taking a guy who fought in the Battle of the Bulge or who floated a week in the Pacific before being rescued and messing with all that. So a bunch of them said, ‘Screw that. Let’s start another one.’”

CHARTER MEMBERS: Mac McKinley's name is highlighted in red. The second name on the list belon... CHARTER MEMBERS: Mac McKinley's name is highlighted in red. The second name on the list belongs to Harold "Red Poling, who went on to be CEO of Ford Motor Co.There were some formalities to address, but by May 23, 1948, it became official – the Illinois Gamma chapter of SigEp was born.

Big men on campus

“There were 35 of us, and we got permission from national,” said McKinley. “It wasn’t long until we had a house on the main street there – 714 (E. Broadway) I think was the address – and off we went. We were a bunch of guys who were serious about our education. Our mission was academically, athletically – the whole business – we wanted to be the best fraternity on campus. And we did that. We skunked all the others athletics-wise in intramurals, and academically, we saw to it that we would help any of our members who needed help. We became a pretty close-knit group.”

“We were a bunch of guys who were serious about our education. Our mission was academically, athletically – the whole business – we wanted to be the best fraternity on campus. And we did that. … We became a pretty close-knit group.” Mac McKinley

One of the members of that group was Harold “Red” Poling ’49, the future CEO of Ford Motor Co., who was vice president of the chapter. When Poling graduated, McKinley, who had been house manager, was elected chapter president.

Life after Monmouth

At the end of that academic year, McKinley’s time at Monmouth was over. The real world didn’t take long to consume his energy.

“I got married two days after I graduated, and I got awfully busy establishing a profession and a family, so I’ve got to admit I lost contact with the fraternity,” said McKinley. “I had other things I had to do.”

SIG EP HOUSE: For part of his time at Monmouth, Mac McKinley was the manager of the fraternity&#3... SIG EP HOUSE: For part of his time at Monmouth, Mac McKinley was the manager of the fraternity's house at 714. E. Broadway. The land is now a parking lot for the Office of Admissions and the Center for Science and Business.The chosen profession for the biology major was education, and he wound up serving 33 years as an elementary school principal in Quincy, his wife’s hometown. He’s credited with creating an “innovative school,” individualizing the curriculum in each subject area for each individual child.

In recent years, along with help from his two daughters and a son-in-law, McKinley has developed a privately owned museum that houses 42 John Deere farm implements manufactured in the late 1920s through 1940. Showcased is a 1936 Model B John Deere tractor, fully restored.

Much has changed in agriculture and in his alma mater from the days of his youth, a fact McKinley readily acknowledges.

“It’s an entirely different world than it was 75 years ago,” he said.

But not everything has changed. Good advice is still good advice.

“If they give me a chance me a talk (at the reunion), I’ll talk about choices – the choices we make as individuals and the choices of the entire fraternity. We are the choices we make.” Mac McKinley

“If they give me a chance me a talk (at the reunion), I’ll talk about choices – the choices we make as individuals and the choices of the entire fraternity,” said McKinley. “We are the choices we make.”

A good one that McKinley made within 48 hours of receiving his Monmouth diploma was marrying his 1950 classmate Joyce Chatten. The couple was married 68 years until “I lost her four years ago,” he said. “She taught me how to live.”

But McKinley still has the rest of his family, as well as scores of “brothers” who are very eager to meet him at the end of May.

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