Reluctant College Student Became WSU Regent

Robert “Mac” Crow grew up on a wheat ranch near the small town of Oaksdale on a section of ground that his great grandfather homesteaded in 1880. Mac reluctantly enrolled in college after graduating from high school at the age of 16. “All I wanted to do was stay home and farm,” he recalls. “I made an agreement with my folks that I would go to school for two years and then I could come home.”

R.M. "Mac" CrowHis sister, who graduated from high school at the same time, enrolled at Washington State and later became a school teacher in Pullman. “I went one year to Whitworth College because at the time WSU looked too big. Then I decided I wanted an ag degree. I didn’t want some other vocation. I transferred to Pullman as a sophomore.”

He succumbed to the call of the farm during the second semester of his junior year. “I quit school. The road was blocked between Palouse and Pullman with snow so I jumped on the train and went home. Dad put me to work the next day.”

That spring, “out of the blue,” according to Mac, a 70-year-old man in town offered to rent 400 acres to him. “It was almost a fairy tale story because here I was 19 years-old with no backing other than my dad.”

One of the provisions of the lease was that he complete his college education. He returned to WSU in the fall, attending classes during the week and spending his week-ends at the ranch. The next year another elderly man offered to lease Mac another 240 acres.

“I was very lucky to have those two men give me that start,” Mac says. “I’ve never forgotten that. Hopefully, I can pay some other youngster back.”

If anything he repaid the debt long ago in the form of public service. He was on the board of the Oakesdale Grain Growers for 12 years and served as president of the board for 10. He served on the Whitman County Crop Improvement Board, as president of the Whitman County Wheat Growers on the board of directors of the Washington State Wheat Growers.

He also served on the Whitman County Mental Health Board, the Whitman County School Re-organization Committee and as Oakesdale School Director for 10 years. He also worked on the Washington State School Directors Association for 10 years. That’s where he learned the legislative process. His list of accomplishments goes on.

He became active in Democratic Party politics and firm supporter of Fifth District Congressman Tom Foley. “He was my idol,” Mac said, “and an honest politician. Mac chaired Foley’s ag advisory committee and at the behest of Foley, served as an advisor to EPA Administrator Carol Browner.

Foley was in Oakesdale for a parade about the time he was elected Speaker of the House in 1989, Mac said. The national media came too, including reporters from the Washington Post, the New York Times and Ted Koppel, host of ABC-TV’s “Nightline.”

“My wife cooked up a bunch of potato salad as farm wives do,” Mac said. After Foley left for Spokane, the press came to his house for a potluck dinner. “They couldn’t get over how common everybody was.”

Mac’s connection to his alma mater has never been broken. He sent three children to WSU. He has been active in the Cougar Club for many years as well as a member of the alumni association. He served on the WSU Board of Regents from 1985 to 1997 and as president of the board in 1988.

It’s not surprising, that Mac was honored with the WSU Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Alumni Achievement Award, in 1999 “for outstanding leadership and assistance to WSU as a superb Regent, proud alumnus, successful Cougar Club President and loyal friend.”