Business leader honored for vision, support of the Safe Cab program

Jon Tatting
ECM Post Review, North Branch

A Rush City business leader has been chosen to receive a prestigious award for going above and beyond the call of duty in keeping Minnesota roadways safe and free from drunk drivers.

Kathy McDonald, of McDonald Distributing Company, is set to receive a Brad Manor/Frank Thissen Award from the Minnesota Alcohol Traffic Safety Association Board during its annual conference on April 26 in St. Cloud. MATSA, a non-profit organization established in 1975, promotes traffic safety in Minnesota.

Kathy McDonald, of McDonald Distributing Company in Rush City, is being honored for her past and ongoing support of the Safe Cab program. As for the program’s impact, Isanti County was ranked number one among Minnesota counties in reducing DWI arrests from 2006-10.

Nominated by 10th District Court Judge James Dehn, McDonald is being recognized for her support and funding of the Safe Cab program, which is on the grow both in state and out since launching in Isanti County.

“Without Kathy’s involvement and commitment in getting people home safely from drinking establishments, Safe Cab would not exist,” said Judge Dehn, who is chambered in Isanti County.

McDonald, whose family has owned McDonald Distributing Co. for decades, has been passionate about working to educate young people of the dangers of drunk driving by, in part, bringing convicted drivers and victims to schools.

In December 2005, she connected with Judge Dehn, Cambridge Bar and Grill owner Loren Davis and others, and the Isanti County Safe Cab program was born thanks to McDonald’s support and vision. In its infancy, Safe Cab only provided three rides to eight people that first month.

Safe Cab would take off, however, as the program recently celebrated its 5,000th rider with over 3,000 rides. That and Isanti County was ranked number one among Minnesota counties in reducing DWI arrests from 2006-10, while the number of arrests has declined by 64 percent.

Another achievement occurred a year ago when Davis, chairman of the Isanti County Safe Cab program, became the first bar owner to receive the Greater Minnesota Public Safety Representative Award from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The bars who are members of the Safe Cab program have experienced higher sales as the presence of the program brings in more customers, said Judge Dehn.

Plus, the program has teamed with the Minnesota Beer Wholesalers Association and the Center For Excellence in Rural Safety. From these alliances, Dehn pointed out, Safe Cab has not only spread to five other rural Minnesota counties (Chisago, Kanabec, Pine, Wright and Otter Tail) but on both the east and west coasts.

Through her company, McDonald further provides all the printing of Safe Cab signs and materials to get the word out and has paid one-third of all rides since the inception of the program.

“Kathy McDonald is very deserving of this award,” said Robert Bollenbeck, who serves on the Toward Zero Death initiative for the East Central Regional Development Commission. “Her innovative leadership and partnering with Safe Cab has kept roadways safer in Isanti County and ensured that people who may have had too much to drink get home safely.

“McDonald Distributing not only assists in helping to pay Safe Cab fares but has provided at no charge signage publicizing the program which is hung in participating bars in Isanti County. I believe that the support and involvement of Kathy in Safe Cab has contributed to Isanti County’s achievement of significantly reducing DUI’s,” Bollenbeck continued.

McDonald is also being recognized for funding the Safe Cab programs in Chisago, Kanabec and Pine counties, which have served as models for other Minnesota counties as well as a national model for rural counties to reduce drunk driving accidents and arrests, Judge Dehn explained.

Said MATSA Vice President David Decker in his award to letter to McDonald: “Throughout 2011, your efforts have saved countless lives, and fatalities on Minnesota roads were down as compared to 2010. Although many factors account for this decline, it is individuals such as you whose efforts have made this difference.”

“Naturally I am happy and humbled at the same time to be recognized by this wonderful group,” noted McDonald when reached for comment last week. “It has been great to see how this program has grown and provides this great service in getting people home safely while keeping our roads safe for everyone. It has been an honor working with Judge James Dehn; the cab companies, Pete Brown from Cambridge Cab and Randy Atterbury with Atta Boys; and Robert Bollenbeck with the Toward Zero Death program.”

McDonald will receive her award at 11:15 a.m. April 26 during MATSA’s three day conference at the St. Cloud Holiday Inn.