When I took over as the community editor of the Carver County News last June, I had been to Watertown only a couple of times in my life.
As the former sports editor at the Waconia Patriot, my few trips to Watertown had been mostly to shoot pictures at sporting events. On a couple of occasions, I also filled in for then-CCN editor Todd Moen covering things like graduations or other assorted events that Todd couldn’t attend due to schedule conflicts.
In fact, if I recall correctly, I had actually met only one Watertown resident prior to starting my job here as the editor. I’ll give you one guess as to who that one Watertown resident was.
If you guessed K.J. McDonald, you’re dead on. If you guessed anybody other than K.J. McDonald, well, what were you thinking?
I was in town covering the "Recapture America" political rally that McDonald helped organize at the Performing Arts Center back in September 2010. I don’t recall the reason I was assigned to cover the event, but that’s really not important. About 10 minutes before the scheduled start time, I grabbed a seat in the third row, in a perfect position to shoot pictures of the various politicians and other speakers who approached the podium.
Within moments of sitting down, I was approached by McDonald. There was no particular reason, other than to welcome me to Watertown and find out who I was. As the city’s mayor and the organizer of the event, that certainly seems like a reasonable thing to do. Looking back now, though, I think the reason McDonald came to talk to me is that he saw a face he didn’t know, and well, that probably just doesn’t happen too often. When there’s somebody in the room that McDonald doesn’t know, it usually doesn’t take him long to change that.
That’s just the kind of guy McDonald is. A guy that’s lived in Watertown all his life, and loves everything about the town and everybody in it. Judging by the outpouring of gratitude he received at last week’s city council meeting, the city and the entire region seem to have reciprocal feelings for McDonald. The entire 50-minute meeting was taken up by various cities, organizations, residents and politicians reading proclamations thanking McDonald for his decades of service to his country, his state, and mostly to the community he loves so much.
McDonald seemed stunned by the whole display, partly because he had no idea it was going to happen, and partly because the Korean War vet, seven-term state representative and multiple-term mayor of the city of Watertown genuinely doesn’t seem to believe his decades of service is anything out of the ordinary. As he mentioned in his thank you remarks at the end of the meeting, he has always just believed that serving your community and your country is what people are supposed to do.
He’s right, and fortunately, Watertown seems to have an abundance of people who feel the same way. The Lions, American Legion and Booster Club are just a couple of the many examples of great service organizations that are thriving in Watertown thanks to the active support of people who want to make a difference in their community and make it a better place to live. The impressive thing about McDonald, though, is that he seems to be a member of just about all of them.
McDonald’s service in politics is extensive, and it is that for which he is probably most known. But what stood out about Tuesday’s long list of proclamations are McDonald’s contributions to the community outside the political realm. He’s spent 55 years
as an American Legion member, nearly 40 years as a Lion, and he’s a charter member of the Tri-County Toastmasters, dating back more than 40 years. He’s been active in community theater, promoting the public schools, organizing the Memorial Day service for five decades, and is probably involved in the community in far more ways than I’m even aware after spending just one year in Watertown. If there’s anything that can be done or any group in the area that could use some help, McDonald seems to be the first in line.
Regardless of how you feel about McDonald as a mayor or politician, there’s no denying he’s been a great asset to the community as a resident throughout his life. Certainly, there’s plenty we can all learn from McDonald’s example.
Far too often, people care only about how they can benefit from their communities and what their city can provide for them. Far too oftent, people look at their towns simply as a place to live rather than a place where they can make a difference. Instead, we should be equally concerned about what we can do to make our own towns – whichever one you call home – a better place not just for yourself, but for everybody in it.
Watertown is a town that seems to truly understand that. It’s a town full of people eager to give their time and effort in order to build a stronger community. It’s a town that understands the importance of working together to accomplish goals. It’s a town where people will rally behind a family or resident in need. It’s a town where people not only know their neighbors, but also care about their neighbors and other fellow residents.
Watertown is a true community in every essence of the word, and I believe K.J. McDonald and the example he has set during his lifetime is a big reason for all of that.