Mitchell McDonald was walking into a movie theater with a date when his cellphone buzzed one Saturday night five years ago. Someone from Argosy University was on the line, calling about his application for an advanced degree in education. McDonald was puzzled. He’d never applied. Nor had he ever heard of the school in Eagan.

Then an image popped in his head of a smiling man wearing a colorful, flowing African dashiki.

“Excuse me, sir, I will call you right back.”

Mitchell then punched in the number of his father, Kwame McDonald, an iconic Twin Cities neighborhood activist, youth mentor and sports photographer for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder newspaper.

“Dad, do you know something about Argosy?”

“Oh, good, they called,” his father replied. “When’s the meeting?”

Mitchell, a social studies teacher at St. Paul Johnson High School, chuckled recalling how his father had gone online and applied to Argosy for him. He used to get so mad about that kind of meddling from his dad, who died of bladder cancer two years ago at 80.

“But now I look back on all those times he pushed me and nudged me and I reflect and I get pretty emotional,” McDonald said. “He was just being a true father who wanted a better life for me.”

In the grieving that followed his father’s death, which came right on the heels of his mother Mary’s passing, Mitchell was ready to quit going to school. He already had a master’s degree in education and his pursuit of a doctorate in institutional leadership stalled while he took care of his dying father, who blamed himself for slowing his only child’s educational ascent.

“I’m going to finish, Dad, I’m going to finish,” he kept telling Kwame.

Then another jolt came. His Argosy professor and chairman of his dissertation committee, Dr. Allen Schmieder, had a stroke three days before he made his pitch to the panel, outlining his proposal to survey African-American student-athletes from Concordia College.

Schmieder, like just about everyone who ever met Kwame, quickly befriended Mitchell’s father. But Kwame was sleeping on the day of his son’s big proposal, so Mitchell let him rest. He assumed Schmieder wouldn’t make it either, but here came his mentor shuffling in the room with a walker, followed a few minutes later by his father, who fought off his illness to drive over to Eagan, saying, “I had to be here to see this.”

Kwame died in October of 2011 and Schmieder passed away 14 months later.

“Every time I wanted to quit, I saw that vision of those two old guys coming out for me,” Mitchell said.

He graduated with that advanced degree Saturday night in a ceremony at O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, thinking about his dad and about how all that meddling once made him so angry. But not anymore.

Curt Brown