Few alumni have left their mark on Wheaton College like Harold “Mac” Airhart ’61. In his case, literally, on half of the College’s buildings.
But Mac didn’t embark on a graffiti spree. A great-great-grandson of Wheaton’s first president, the Rev. Jonathan Blanchard HON, Mac left his mark by serving on the Board of Trustees from 1990 to 2015. For his quarter-century of service, he was named the 2016 Alumnus of the Year for Distinguished Service to Alma Mater.
On his first childhood visit to the College, Mac was fixated by its buildings—particularly by President Charles Blanchard’s house with its dual staircases.
“It seemed to me, that if I were on the second floor and that if someone were after me, I would have two routes of escape,” Mac recalls. “That was a benefit to my young mind.”
Mac remained fixated on Wheaton’s facilities long after his graduation by serving as chair of the Trustee Building and Facilities Committee, where he stewarded 24 major facility projects on the College’s main campus, at HoneyRock, and at the Black Hills Science Station. He also helped to secure the former Wheaton Christian Grammar School (Harrison Hall) and Scripture Press (East Campus) properties for the College.
By the time he retired as a trustee, Mac had helped increase the College’s land area by 28 percent, and nearly 50 percent of the College’s facilities were constructed or renovated under his guidance.
Mac has been a real estate builder and developer in Chicago’s western suburbs since 1966, when he founded Airhart Construction. He still remembers how business professor Dr. William Volkman HON advised him to start a painting business to cover his college costs, and how literature professor Dr. Beatrice Batson M.A. ’47 “opened a new world to those of us who were more familiar with cattle, hogs, and corn than with the Bard.”
Other mentors include Dr. Arne Howard HON, Dr. Cyril Luckman ’37, coach Harvey Chrouser ’34, and chaplain Evan Welsh ’27, D.D. ’55.
“You knew all these people loved you no matter where you were on the scale,” says Mac. “They dearly wanted you to grow up strong in Christ and take your place in his kingdom.”
Mac also found that “Wheaton friendships last a lifetime.” He met one of his best friends on the first day of freshman year, hitting golf balls out behind Saint dormitory in the fall of 1957.
“Next year will be our 60th year of golf together,” says Mac. “Our spirits are strong. But our handicaps are so high they seem halfway to heaven.”
Mac has also served on the boards of Wheaton Academy, DuPage Habitat for Humanity, the Northern Illinois Home Builders Association, and the Home Builders Association of Illinois.
During his service on these boards, Mac helped guide the acquisition, design, and construction of Wheaton Bible Church’s new campus on North Avenue, Wheaton Christian Grammar School’s additions for seventh and eighth grades and an auditorium, the headquarters of Living Bibles International, the Deicke Center for Visual Rehabilitation's “Little Yellow House,” and Wyndemere Continuing Care Retirement Community’s independent living facility. He also served on DuPage County’s Affordable Housing Task Force, and designed and managed the conversion of the Fischer estate into furlough homes for 10 missionary families.
Colleagues and friends alike attest to Mac’s generous care for the College over the years:
"Mac is a prime example of what the College desires for its graduates: a follower of Christ shaped by his Wheaton experience into a man of integrity, excellence, and commitment,” says President Emeritus Duane Litfin HON. “In his private life, Mac has been a man dedicated to his family, his church, and to the worldwide work of the Lord. Professionally, he has built a reputation for honesty and high quality in the community he serves. At Wheaton, his gifts and experience have made a unique contribution to enriching life on our campus. In short, he has modeled the kind of faithful service to Christ and others that the College delights in celebrating.”
“As a direct descendant of Wheaton's first two presidents, Mac has stewarded that privileged relationship in a remarkable way,” says Marilee Melvin ’72. “He has always had a tender heart for students and for the College’s central mission that young Christian leaders learn the truth of God’s Word and live that out in their daily vocation. I have observed him in meetings bring the discussion back to this ‘most important thing,’ demonstrating a compassionate concern that we get this right.”
“I have found Mac to be one of the most humble, caring, and generous people I know,” says George Bennett Jr. ’63, who served alongside Mac as a College trustee for 25 years. “Another trait of Mac is his pursuit of excellence. All you have to do is observe the wonderful changes that have taken place on Wheaton’s campus during his long tenure.
“Mac has a heart for Wheaton, his family, and the students. I can’t count the times I have seen him moved to tears over his care and concern for the students. As I have closely observed, Mac’s heart toward Wheaton and its students is deeply rooted in his love for his Savior.”
Mac still cherishes Wheaton’s concept of “the integration of faith and learning.”
“What this means to me is that all we hear, see, say, or do is passed through the filter of our faith,” he says. “It is more than a Christian worldview; it is a call to action.”
Citing Chuck Colson LL.D. ’82, Mac says Christian ethics requires that believers “recognize right from wrong and choose right,” as well as “have the faith through the power of the Holy Spirit to do right.”
“If you follow these principles to the best of your ability, you will be known as honest,” says Mac. “This is the essence of good business practice.”
Mac is married to Vonla Burman Air-hart ’63 and they are parents of Vonla Jean Airhart Glassman ’85 and Court Mackenzie Airhart ’89. They have four grandchildren.