In 1903, after practicing law in St. Paul for almost two decades, Elmer Ellsworth McDonald moved to Bemidji to practice with Leslie H. Bailey, a noted trial lawyer. After Bayley's death two years later, he remained in Bemidji, built a thriving law practice and immersed himself in community affairs. On his death on May 30, 1924, at age 62, the "Bemidji Daily Pioneer" was effusive in its praise of his efforts for the development of Northern Minnesota:
"Coming from St. Paul twenty-two years ago, Mr. McDonald had linked his destiny with the growth of Northern Minnesota. He was a man of vision, a man who saw the possibilities of this part of the state but backing his vision was an unusual ability for organization. . . . In Bemidji he was able to carry out many of his projects and the projects in which his friends were interested because of his statewide acquaintance. As an attorney he had built up a splendid practice, holding the confidence and respect of his clients. He was an enthusiastic booster of all development projects, actively connected with the Northern Minnesota Development Association during his years of usefulness and on the day before his death appeared before a local organization in the interests of a new project he considered of importance."