Country Neighbor

Reared on a modest family farm in Polk County, the late B.B. “Bill” McDonald was an esteemed member of the Ash Grove community and superintendent of schools there for 25 years.

The values and work ethic ingrained during his childhood on the farm on Mo, 123 between Eudora and Aldrich served him well. He graduated from Marion C. Early High School in Morrisville in 1953, earned his Bachelor of Science in business education from Southwest Missouri State University in 1957, and later earned his master’s degree in school administration from Drury College.

McDonald began his teaching career at Bradleyville, then taught at Marion C. Early from 1959 to 1964.  The next year he was high school principal at MCE in Morrisville, and in the fall of 1965 he became superintendent  at Billings, but left after one year to begin his 25-year tenure as superintendent at Ash Grove.

Upon his retirement in 1991 the school named its new media center in McDonald’s honor, and in 2003 added his name to the district’s Wall of Honor, acknowledging the esteemed position he held in the school, community and hearts of those who knew him.

In addition to his participation in professional and educational organizations, he was active in the chamber of commerce, the Masons and other organizations, as well as serving as a deacon in the Ash Grove First Baptist Church until succumbing to a lingering illness at age 72 on March 5, 2007.

At McDonald’s side throughout his ascent to prominence as an educator was his wife, the former Melba Zweifel — almost a “June bride” on May 31, 1962, and the mother of their two children, Susan and David.

And it all started with a country boy’s childhood on one of Polk County’s two 2013 Missouri Century Farms.

In 1907 Henry Clay McDonald, 49, and his wife, Rebecca, 47, acquired the 110-acre farm two miles north of present-day Eudora in southwestern Polk County.

One hundred and six years later 40 acres of the McDonald family farm has been added to the Missouri Century Farm register and continues to be used by Henry and Rebecca’s heirs.

Billie Bob “Bill” McDonald was Henry and Rebecca’s grandson. “His folks said they would like to keep the place in the McDonald name, and I’d like to see it kept in the McDonald name,” Melba said.

Though the old house is rented out, the family continues to harvest timber and pasture cattle on the original place, and the younger generations — Melba’s children and grandchildren — still enjoy coming out to the farm.

The 40 acres designated a Century Farm is that portion of the original farm inherited by Billie Bob from his parents, William and Pearl (Sell) McDonald. 

Billie Bob’s sister, Vivian Crain (1924-2003), acquired the remaining 70 acres, which passed to her daughter, Janice Holman and her husband, Robert, who run cattle on the entire farm today.

Though only 40 acres is on the Century Farm roster, a 1930 Polk County plat book shows more than 500 contiguous acres owned by different members of the McDonald family.

A middle-aged couple when they moved to the farm north of Eudora, H.C. and Rebecca had seven children between them as of 1900. That year’s census lists five McDonald siblings and  Charles and Eva Gilliam, Rebecca’s children. They would have been ages 22 and 19, respectively, in 1907.  

It’s not clear from available records how many were in the household by 1907, but daughter, Verdie, 24, was likely on her own, while younger siblings Millard, 17, Robert, 16, Clarence, 13, and William R., 11, would have been at home. The 1920 census lists just Millard and William, as well as H.C.’s half-sister, Sarah Howell.

Born in 1896, William R. McDonald and his wife, Pearl, born in 1902, had two children — Vivian, born in 1924 and Billy Bob, born in 1934.

As with most farmers in the Depression era, times were hard for the McDonald family. They sold milk and raised hogs, chickens and wheat and other crops on their Eudora farm. Then, in the early 1940s the family moved to Kansas City where W.R. drove a truck and Pearl worked at Sears, Melba explained. 

Billie Bob started school in Kansas City, but the family soon eschewed city life for the farm, and the younger McDonald completed his schooling at Eudora and Marion C. Early in Morrisville.

Though young Bill was reared on the Eudora farm, he and his bride, Melba, never lived there, but ultimately settled on a career in education and became that esteemed superintendent of schools and community leader in Ash Grove — and it all began with the rigors of life on a Polk County Century Farm.

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