Jim MacKay ’60: A Full Life Molded by TKE

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Between military service during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 40-year career with Kodak, and travels with his wife of 56 years, Jim MacKay ’60 has seen a whole lot of the world. But even now, retired in Arizona, Penn State and TKE still hold a very special place in his memory. Jim remembers being drawn to TKE initially because of the quality and maturity of the brothers, and becoming one is something that has benefited him his whole life through.

“My experience as a TKE at Penn State molded me for the rest of my entire life,” says Jim. “The respect for others, teamwork, friendships, table etiquette for dinner, leadership building, etc.—all are important lessons learned or built upon as a TKE that continue to serve me well today.”

One of Jim’s fondest memories from those days was his pledge trip to Hershey and Philadelphia, where the lasting bond between his pledge class first started. He recalls having to bring a list of “goodies” back to the house, which included a fish caught in the Hershey River and a bag of pigeon dung scraped from City Hall. But while the trip was a lot of laughs, the IFC Sing was the experience that stands out most to Jim. After winning the first two years that Jim was in the house and extending TKE’s victory streak to 11 straight years, Penn State ruled that TKE could no longer use their same traditional song. 

“We contacted national and they had a TKE brother compose a new song for us to sing,” says Jim. “So we used the new song and won with that one also.”

Following graduation, Jim returned to his hometown of Rochester, New York to await his active duty assignment following his Army ROTC commission. He met his wife that summer at Lake Ontario, and they married a year later. Just 10 days after the birth of their first son, Jim shipped out on a secret mission to establish a defensive missile base in the southeastern U.S. as the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolded.

After finishing his service in 1963, Jim took a position with Eastman Kodak, where he was asked to join the newly formed Motion Picture and Education Markets Division. He made his career with Kodak for more than 35 years, eventually serving as Director of its Motion Picture and Television Business. Among many industry accomplishments, Jim founded the Kodak Worldwide Student Program in 1990 to provide tuition scholarships to deserving film and video students. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) presented him with the 2005 Eastman Kodak Gold Medal Award in honor of his exemplary contribution to film education.

Since retiring from Kodak, Jim has made a career of entirely pro bono work, from serving as CFO for the University Film and Video Foundation to serving as President and Chairman of the Board of a hospice in Tucson. TKE has been lucky enough to receive his generosity.

“I have been blessed in so many ways,” says Jim. “I feel when one is as fortunate as I am, one should give back.”

Jim isn’t able to get back to Penn State often since retiring to Arizona, but he stays active in the Penn State Alumni chapter in Tucson, getting together during football season for games at a local sports bar. A few years ago, Jim contacted several TKE brothers encouraging them to come back to Penn State for the TKE reunion. Every brother he contacted was able to make it, and they celebrated with a TKE dinner at the Nittany Lion Inn.

“It was a great TKE reunion with my brothers, many of whom hadn’t seen each other since graduation some 50 years ago,” says Jim.

Today, Jim lives happily with his wife of 56 years. They have two sons, a daughter, and two grandsons. They are part of a chorus of about 70 people in their retirement community, and just a few weekends ago they performed a concert of ’50s music to a 600-person audience.

“We had a great time bringing back a lot of memories from our college days with songs like ‘Rock Around the Clock’ and ‘Splish Splash,’” Jim says. He jokes that a retirement community audience is a great kind to perform to, “as most of them have lost some hearing ability at this point, so a missed note here and there gets by easily.”

To read more about Jim’s life and career, visit his LinkedIn page here.

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