July 3, 2000
SISTER GRACE MCDONALD ENDS ERA AT VITERBO SPANNING HALF-CENTURY
LA CROSSE, Wis—Forty-eight years of continuous service to Viterbo will come to an end this month for Grace McDonald, FSPA, who is finishing her final term as a member of the college’s board of directors.
Her legacy as history professor, president, and director, leaves an indelible mark on the college she helped shape for the better half of the Twentieth Century.
It was during Sr. McDonald’s tenure as president that, in 1971, Viterbo formally admitted men for the first time. Earlier, in 1960, she "opened the doors" of Viterbo to the larger community by creating the first autonomous board of directors—independent from St. Rose Convent. Several years later, lay members were added. She would go on to serve forty years on the board, creating a record tenure, that with current term limits, will never be broken.
Her leadership was evident in other very significant ways during critical junctures of growth for Viterbo in areas of enrollment, physical plant expansion and community influence.
Historical accounts credit Sr. McDonald with making the decision to construct the Fine Arts Center in the late 60s at a cost of $5.2 million. And the risk was high for Viterbo which had a small enrollment and very few music, art, and theater majors.
"Back then, many questioned the wisdom of spending that kind of money on a fine arts facility," current president William J. Medland said. "Despite complaints from some, that the building would be Viterbo’s ‘white elephant’ and an albatross, the board, led by Sr. McDonald, nevertheless gave the go-ahead. The move took tremendous courage and faith.
"The legacy Viterbo now enjoys as a leader in the arts all happened as a consequence of that decision," Medland added.
Sr. McDonald was also influential in shaping the leadership roles of others who would follow, said Marlene Weisenbeck, FSPA, and chancellor to the Diocese of La Crosse.
"She (McDonald) was a pioneer, exhibiting a powerful leadership style years ago, well before it became socially acceptable for women to do so," Weisenbeck said.
Sr. McDonald served as Viterbo president from 1960-70. From 1952-60, she was a professor of history.