Sam (Emanuel) McDonald, descendant of slaves, was born in Louisiana in 1884. Moving several times, and working at various jobs, he finally settled in Mayfield (South Palo Alto), and in 1903 took employment as a teamster for Stanford University. This was the beginning of a long and pleasant career with Stanford, spanning some 50 years, with Sam eventually becoming Superintendent of Athletic Grounds and Buildings. While working at the "Farm," McDonald took a correspondent course in law and served as Secret Service Agent for the Treasury Department, as Deputy Constable for Pale Alto Township, and as Deputy Sheriff for Santa Clara County.
McDonald began acquiring the La Honda property in 1917, with the purchase of a two-room cabin and some ground along Alpine Creek in the northern portion of the property. Standing 6'4", he became part of the Stanford legend. He probably had a wider acquaintance with students and faculty than any other member of the Stanford family did. Dr. Ray Lyman Wilbur, University President, said on one occasion: "I am glad I do not have to run against Sam for office; I would fear the results.
The Stanford Convalescent Home for Underprivileged Children on campus was one of McDonald's pet projects; he planted large gardens for the children during the war years, and cooked barbecues for them. The home was named "Sam McDonald " in his honor.
When he died in November 1957, he left his La Honda property (400+ acres) to Stanford, which had given him so much in opportunity, friendship and happiness. McDonald specifically requested that his heirs use the land as a park for the benefit of young people. San Mateo County acquired the land in 1958 for $67,000 and dedicated it for public use in 1970. An additional 450 acres were acquired in 1976 from Kendall B. Towne, bringing the total acreage of the park to 867 acres.