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Dr. Judy McDonald

Dr. Judy McDonald

A former Chadron State College librarian who was among the founders of the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society, Dr. Judy McDonald, died on Dec. 30, 2018 at Bemidji, Minn., where she had lived since 1977.

She was born at her family’s farm near Rockville, Neb., in Sherman County on Jan. 17, 1939. She had polio as a youth and in recent years post-polio syndrome affected her physically.

McDonald earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She also received a master’s degree in library science from the University of Denver.

During her employment at Chadron State from 1968 through 1974, McDonald took the lead in founding the Mari Sandoz Heritage Society. She became the society’s first executive director and was presented the “In the Spirit of Mari Sandoz Award” by the society during its conference at CSC in 2007.

“Judy was the founder of the society, nurtured it, built the first early interest in such an enterprise and brought me and many others together to constitute a board in the early 1970,” said Dr. Ron Hull of Lincoln, president of the society when the award was presented.

McDonald recalled that the first activities of the society included publishing a quarterly newsletter and having convocations at Chadron State on May 11, Mari’s birthday. The new organization also sponsored a couple of “Sandoz Country” tours that included visits to the “River Place” south of Hay Springs where much of Mari’s first book, “Old Jules,” occurs and going east through the Sandhills to the ranch where Old Jules relocated and planted orchards.

The author’s grave is at the latter location.

McDonald also did the research and wrote the script for “Song of the Plains: The Story of Mari Sandoz,” a documentary produced in 1976 that featured interviews with all of Mari’s siblings who were still living and had Dick Cavett as host and Dorothy McGuire as narrator.

In addition, McDonald interviewed many of Mari’s acquaintances, wrote numerous articles about the author and was instrumental in opening a Mari Sandoz Heritage Room on the main floor of the Rita King Library at Chadron State long before the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center opened in September 2002.

In addition, she helped organize a week-long workshop on the author that was taught by humorist, folklorist and author Roger Welsch at Chadron State Park and took the lead in nominating Mari Sandoz for the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

Sandoz was inducted into the hall of fame in 1976.

After leaving CSC, she worked for the UNL in Scottsbluff for two years and completed her doctorate in Lincoln before going to Bemidji State University as a librarian. She later served as dean of the College of Arts and Letters for approximately 15 years.

She was married to Kay McCune in 2013. Other survivors include twin daughters Candee McDonald and Sandee Osmundson, both of Bemidji; three grandsons; sister Marilyn Palu of Scotia, Neb.; and a special niece, Vicki Palu, Plymouth, Minn.

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