At 96, Mac McNulty’s still a crooner

By Scott Swanson

Lebanon Local

Mac McNulty had a brief shot at fame, once upon a time, but now the bright lights of the big time seem far away. 

And at age 96, that’s how he likes it – turning his vocal talents to a more local audience. 

McNulty, of Lebanon, will perform Saturday, Jan. 25, in a gala musical performance at the Sweet Home High School Auditorium that will include a number of Lebanon-area performers – David Dominy, Jenni Grove, the Helland Family Singers and more. The show will be headlined by Douglas Webster of Portland, who goes by the moniker “The Broadway Baritone.” 

“People just enjoy Mac,” said Shirley Austin, who is the lead organizer for the gala concert. She got to know McNulty when she was the activity planner at the Lebanon Senior Center and he was involved on the center’s board as well as driving Dial-A-Bus. 

McNulty has been involved in a wide variety of activities over the course of his life, but music has been a constant, he said. 

His musical career began when he was a kid, attending Catholic schools in the Los Angeles area. 

Born in 1923, he grew up there, “when L.A. was, maybe, 150,000 people altogether. That when it was all the little villages, not a big city.” 

He grew up during the Great Depression. 

“Most everybody didn’t have any money,” McNulty recalled. “We got along. I got a lot of little jobs. I didn’t have to, but I wanted to make money.” 

He delivered the Los Angeles Daily in the mornings and sold the Herald Express in the evenings. 

“I paid 2 cents and sold them for 3 cents. I could make 40, 50 cents a night. My stepdad was a cabinet maker and he could make a dollar a day. I did pretty well.” 

That’s when he developed his talents as a singer, he said. 

“I’d be going along at 4 in the morning, delivering papers, singing my heart out. Nothing glamorous –just me.”

At St. Agnes Catholic School, he started singing in the choir and continued through the first part of his senior year. 

Then “Dec. 7 came along.” The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and McNulty’s life took a new tack. 

“I was a senior in high school, with six months to go. On Dec. 8 I went down and joined the Marine Corps.”

He served three years, mostly in the South Pacific – Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Western Samoa, Guadalcanal. 

On Guadalcanal he contracted malaria. 

“They had a saying, ‘Got shot at and missed, got s**t at and hit.’ That’s what happened to me.” 

He ended up in the hospital, then spent the rest of the war in San Francisco, getting his discharge in 1945. 

Back in civilian life, he sold insurance in southern California, then installed telephones for three years, mostly in the Beverly Hills area. 

One day he got caught in a torrential rainstorm that resulted in a flood, “which knocked me off a pole three times in one day. I was 3 or 4 feet off the ground. I climbed in my truck, drove back to the shop, and told the foreman I was quitting.” 

The next day he went to the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation and was hired on the spot as an electronics technician to work on the F-94 fighter jets the company was building for use in the Korean War. 

He worked for Lockheed from 1950 to 1954, when he got laid off, but he moved over to Hughes Aircraft, where he worked on the Surveyor spacecraft program, the forerunner to the Apollo moon landings.  

“That’s probably what I’m most proud of,” he said, recalling that “Howard Hughes, he would come in at night, 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, and work on something, building machinery. He drove an old beat-up Chevy around, just an ordinary guy.” 

He stayed with Hughes until 1971, retiring as an electronics department supervisor. 

McNulty had gotten married before leaving the Marines, and that first marriage ended in divorce after 20 years. He met his wife Lori at Hughes, in the cafeteria. 

Retired, but not done, he decided to study wastewater treatment, and went to work in that at Big Bear, a tourist town in the mountains above the Los Angeles basin. He stayed there until 1977, volunteering at the fire department – “I was the oldest firefighter there” and becoming the first certified EMT in the department, he said. 

Then the McNultys moved to Northfield, Mass., on the border with New Hampshire and Vermont. 

“It was a little old-fashioned town of about 2,600 people,” McNulty recalled. They stayed there three years, then decided to move back to the West Coast in 1980, to Oregon, this time. 

McNulty said the hospital where he had recuperated from malaria during the war was in Klamath Falls and he liked Oregon. 

He spent three years working in the water treatment plant in Lebanon before  taking a job at Hewlett-Packard in 1984. He retired in 1990, but “they kept calling me in. I’d finish assembly lines to be shipped out. I finished in 1997 or ’98.” 

He wasn’t done yet. 

“I drove the Lebanon Dial-A-Bus for four years, just to have something to do,” he said.  

Along the way, McNulty sang. In choirs. Just for fun. 

“I put in a phone for one guy in Beverly Hills, and I was singing. He suggested I go down to a club, I don’t remember which one, and try out.”
He did, but “I got mic fright.” The accompanist gave him an encouraging word, and he got through the audition “but it didn’t go well.” 

“That was enough of that. I just sang for myself. I don’t really have mic fright now.”

He was singing at the Lebanon Senior Center when Austin heard him, and talked him into performing in one of her shows. 

“My voice is not really bad for my age,” he said, noting that he’s three months into his 96th year.  “It’s not really glamorous. I can get a little off tune once in a while. But I still like to sing. Sharon, our choir director at the Methodist Church, got me over mic fright.

MAC MCNULTY performs during a Lebanon Senior Center Hee Haw show in 2014.
File photo

He’s been a regular performer at the church’s Christmas concerts over the years, in addition to Christmas shows organized by Austin at the Senior Center. He’s also performed in the Chips ’n’ Splinters variety shows during Sportsman’s Holiday festivals in Sweet Home and he was part of the cast of her Hee Haw Show, which was performed locally several years ago. 

“I would call him a crooner,” Austin said. “He’s 96 and I always say I’m going to keep him in my shows as long as he can. He looks pretty good in a tux. Pretty debonair.” 

McNulty said he enjoys “church songs and pop songs from the 1940s and ’50s,” particularly performers such as Perry Como, Nat King Cole and Neil Diamond. 

“I like some of the stuff that Sinatra did, but I didn’t like Sinatra,” he said. “He wasn’t a nice guy.”

“I like to hear those people singing. They’re so at ease and they have nice voices.”

He’s slowing down a little, he said, but he’s still active at the Lebanon Senior Center and with the Friends of the Library, and as a 20-year volunteer with the Linn County Sheriff’s Office, where he spends one day each week. 

“I can’t retire and just sit,” he said. “I’m still having fun, working at the Sheriff’s Office.” 

And singing. 

“Singing is like telling a story,” McNulty said. “I’ve discovered, when singing for a crowd, I need to find one person and sing to them. That way you don’t get confused.”