Donald R. DeWitt G’70 died on November 22, 2017, in Fairbanks, Alaska.
(The following was published in published in the Daily News-Miner from December 18 – 20, 2017:)
Donald R. “Don” DeWitt joined his fellow dinosaurs Nov. 22, 2017, at the age of 80. Don was born in 1937 at the height of the Great Depression near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but escaped with his family to Dayton, Ohio, in 1946. There, he attended Fairmont High School (go Dragons) and The Ohio State University (go Bucks), where he began his teaching career by being asked, as an undergraduate, to teach freshman and sophomore college level mathematics classes. Don finally escaped the Midwest and migrated to Fairbanks in 1962, where he taught mathematics at Lathrop (go Malemutes) and West Valley (go Wolfpack) high schools for 28 years, retiring in 1990. While at Lathrop, he coached its curling club, some of those members are still curling.
Not wanting to slow down yet, Don taught an additional year in Bogota, Colombia, and five years at a private girls’ high school in Arizona, finishing his teaching career of about 38 years with four years of teaching history and social studies — special interests of his. All in all, he was math department head for a total of 20 years, foreign language department head for 15 years and social studies department head for three years.
Don had many and varied interests and eventually took courses at ten different colleges and universities (go everybody) in seven different states ranging from Maine, where he earned his masters degree in mathematics at Bowdoin College thanks to a grant from the National Science Foundation; and Arizona, where he nearly earned (all but thesis) a masters in paleontology; to Alaska and Alabama (collecting a fairly decent collection of sweatshirts in the process) and amassing 330-plus semester credit hours. One of his mantras which he tried to impress upon his students was “It’s fun knowin’ stuff.” He even learned how to drive a semitruck. His truck license plate reads “LRNTCH.”
His interests in travel and learning eventually took him to 24 countries, where he saw many especially important sites, both natural and man-made, but he especially liked the beauty and people of Cornwall, England, which he visited and vacationed in more than a dozen times.
Don was bitten by the theater bug early, appearing in more than 38 productions, totaling over 400 curtains, mainly with the Fairbanks Drama Association, and working back stage on many more. He was also a board member of the FDA and its treasurer for many years during the 70s. It was during those years that he also performed in five plays under the auspices of Prof. Lee Salisbury at the UAF theater and was introduced to the sauna at Salisbury’s home, after which he hosted his own weekly sauna parties for several years.
Having chosen a career in the highly paid (HA!) profession of education, Don had the opportunity, and the necessity, of finding a variety of summer jobs. These included participating in almost 20 Earthwatch expeditions, mostly as a staff member in Montana (where he headed a team that excavated the remains of a Triceratops), being a night watchman at A-67, having Don’s Sno-Jobs plowing, working with bison and lynx for the Alaska Fish and Game Department, designing highways for the Department of Transportation, designing and building his own home, owning his own Don’s Deli restaurant at Alaskaland, which offered the first clam chowder and design-your-own bagel sandwiches in Fairbanks, and being a singing, dancing bartender (Boom Dee-Yay Boy) at the Palace Saloon, back when it really was a saloon.
When he retired from teaching at West Valley High School, Don made the mistake of leaving Alaska and settling in Arizona. It took him 18 years to realize his error. He returned to Fairbanks in 2008, where he remained for the rest of his life.
Upon his return to Alaska, Don established annual scholarships for graduates of the FNSB School District, and his entire estate is devoted to such scholarships.
Don was proud of his opportunity to help along (hopefully) over 4,000 students (some of whom went on to become teachers and professors and other professionals), to visit those 24 countries (eating Chinese food in eight of them), to land at over 70 airports to visit 14 major zoos worldwide. He was especially proud of avoiding bottled water, gourmet coffee, flavored vodkas, designer beers, gluten-free foods and other yuppie ideas whenever possible. He was also proud of avoiding any food which required additional added flavors in order to be eaten, such as tofu, yogurt and chicken nuggets, and never having voted for Don Young, Ted Stevens, any Bush or Trump.
He is especially glad that he will no longer have to listen to the handgun enthusiasts, the Tea Party protesters, the paranoids and the apocalypticists. Don hopes that St. Peter will forgive him for having lived in a red state and that he will understand the humor that, as of the above date, Don will be better off dead than red.
There is no planned gathering to celebrate Don’s life, since those who might attend would either fill the Sacred Heart Cathedral and a large annex tent or comfortably fit seated around two card tables, with room for a goat and two chickens. Instead, private toasts can be hoisted in his honor, perhaps repeating his favorite quote from Chaucer: “Gladly wolde he Ierne, and gladly teche.”