Middle school teacher Ben McDonald is not one to “run” from obligations to his hometown.
Q: You live in Knightdale, teach in Raleigh, and graduated from a Wake Forest High School but your roots extend much further south, correct?
A: I grew up in Mississippi, just north of Jackson. My dad was a pastor and he was called to be a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He went on to acquire his PhD there. We moved to Wake Forest when I was in middle school.
Q: What stands out about that move? Was there an adjustment period?
A: I will never forget my first week in middle school. The elementary school I came from in Mississippi probably had about 150 students in the whole school and when I got to the middle school here, it felt like there were 1,000 students. I just felt lost. I do remember having my first barbecue sandwich. I had never had barbecue like that before and it was the first thing I latched on to. I thought it was really good.
Q: Do you miss where you grew up?
A: My extended family is down there and I do return to see them and we have a family farm there, but I don’t really miss it. People think the humidity here is bad? If you are there in the summer, you just want to die.
Q: Your mom and dad still nearby in Wake Forest?
A: As soon as I graduated high school, they moved to Georgia and they have since moved to South Carolina. My dad is at North Greenville University in South Carolina but in my opinion, I have found the best place in the world to live and I have no desire to live anywhere else.
Q: So they moved the month after you graduated high school? What did you do?
A: I went to Campbell University. I majored in international business. I hated it. The first course I took, I just hated it and I thought this is not for me. It had always floated around in the back of my head that I wanted to be a teacher so I changed majors.
Q: Why did you originally major in international business?
A: I don’t know. I had this dream of working in the corporate world and making lots of money (laughing). Now I am a teacher but I do enjoy my job. My wife is also a teacher. We met in high school – we were in the same math class but she was so much smarter than me. I am not too proud to admit that she is smarter than I am (laughing). We went on to attend the same college. At the moment, she is staying at home with our daughter, Brenna, who is 19 months and we have another one on the way. When I left Campbell, I student taught at Martin Middle. The teacher I student taught with left and I ended up taking her place. I teach seventh grade social studies. While I was there, I decided to acquire my masters from N.C. State. I would leave work and take the CAT bus to State’s campus to save money so I wouldn’t have to buy a parking pass.
Q: You and your wife settled in Knightdale. How did you choose that area?
A: We had looked in other areas and could never really find anywhere we liked so my Realtor said, ‘Let me show you Knightdale.’ At first, we were not sure but we liked the first neighborhood we saw and we have been living here since 2010.
Q: And you are serving on the town’s park and recreation board. How did that come about?
A: I knew I wanted to become involved in the community. Not long after moving there and looking into volunteer opportunities, I got this call from Tina Cheek about serving on the parks and recreation board and I really enjoy it.
Q: What is it about that board that interests you?
A: The board is involved in a lot of cool stuff and it’s nice to be able to have input and provide your opinion. I like the park aspect, the possibility to develop greenways and parks and its facilities. I am a teacher so, obviously, I enjoy kids. I like the possibility of establishing new rec programs and make sure the kids here have lots to do. We now have plans of putting in a new playground, our dog park just opened up, and there are plans for a new arboretum. I like that we have several miles of trails.
Q: Have you ever coached a parks and rec team, or been a member of one?
A: No, I love to run though and if they were to ever start a track or cross country team, I might join that.
Q: Have you ever run in a marathon?
A: I ran in the City of Oaks Marathon last year.
Q: What was your finishing time?
A: Four and a half hours.
Q: Any other hobbies?
A: I like to cook and I can make a mean scratch-made biscuit. On the weekend, I often make huge breakfasts. But teaching keeps me busy, and with another little one on the way, I am sure I will soon have lots more to do.
Correspondent Dena Coward