Northland’s second longest serving president

Malcolm McLean, Northland’s second longest serving president, loved entertaining, evening cocktails, the PBS NewsHour, and Lake Superior fish for dinner. He remembered names and details about students and colleagues and made everyone feel included. He was a great conversationalist and a competitive tennis player. Malcolm died November 19 at his St. Paul home. He was eighty-seven years old.

More than one hundred people squeezed into the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute in December to remember and celebrate Malcolm’s life. The gathering was a reflection of his northern Wisconsin life—a mix of Northland College and the community. “An auspicious gathering on an auspicious day,” noted Campus Minister David Saetre.

Born in Duluth, Malcolm graduated from Yale University and enjoyed a distinguished career as a U.S. diplomat. Malcolm met his wife, Wendy, when they were both working in Korea. They dated for two weeks, then married. They had three boys together and were married for fifty-eight years.
He moved his family from his post in Guatemala to northern Wisconsin in 1971 to serve as president of Northland College. For the next sixteen years, he helped shape Northland into a liberal arts school with a strong environmental studies curriculum.

“His heart was in education,” said President Michael Miller.

Malcolm was instrumental in building an innovative Native American studies program and in creating the outdoor education program. He helped create the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, a northern voice for the environmental movement.

In October 1972, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute held its first meeting and in 2012 the Institute celebrated its fortieth anniversary.

“Malcolm set the course for what Northland would become,” Miller said. “He succeeded by making Northland more like Northland rather than less.”

After serving at Northland, McLean moved to St. Paul, where he was president of the United Arts Council before working for several years with Compatible Technology International of St. Paul.
Just weeks before he died, Compatible Technology International created a partnership with Northland College to provide a paid internship for a Northland student—combining many of Malcolm’s passions.

“Malcolm was tirelessly joyous. He lived life fully and dressed up for it like every day was a special day,” Miller said. “We will miss him but never forget him,” Miller said.

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