Donald R. "Don" DeWitt
1937 - 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."
Donations may be made to The Alaska Community Foundation's Don DeWitt Scholarship Fund, 3201 C St., Suite 110, Anchorage, Alaska 99503, or online at
Published by Daily News-Miner from Dec. 18 to Dec. 20, 2017.
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19 Entries
My favorite teacher so far, he was my math teacher for 3 years straight 77-79. Thanks for all your lessons in math and life.
Eric Rhude
July 18, 2018
Farewell Boom-Dee-Yay Boy. Those were the days, my friend. We thought they'd never end...
Syd Picolo
December 28, 2017
Over 45 years ago, two young newlyweds stationed in Fairbanks met a high school math teacher named Don DeWitt and life was never the same again... from the Big I to FDA to the Palace Saloon we were all part of a huge family. We have incredible memories of plays, cast parties, dancing the Hora at the Palace and the ever-delightful (with the exception of cinnamon oil!) Friday night sauna gatherings until 3 in the morning! We loved our time in Alaska and Don was a major reason.
We did our best to stay in contact, following him and his travels around the world. It was always a great surprise to get a phone call from him at any time to say he would be in town the next day and how about getting together for dinner and drinks? On one occasion, Don had finished one of his digs in Montana stopped by to present our two children with a for reals dinosaur bone. What a marvelous gift! Both Adam and Amanda had the most amazing opportunities for Show & Tell
Over the years we've shared our lives by phone or letter. We've always been delighted to get those calls when he'd be in town. Our last time together was this past May, where he talked about spending a little time in the hospital after a fall, but he was doing fine and continuing on with his latest cross-country adventures.
Don will always be one of our greatest friends and our memories will last forever. His sense of humor, his love and commitment to education will always be my inspiration as a teacher. You will be missed.
He once talked of participating in a contest called It Was a Dark and Stormy Night to write the worst opening for a book. He sent me his entry and it was truly awful. Hey Don, maybe this time you'll get it!
Fred & Pam Tower
December 23, 2017
Matt Colonell
December 22, 2017
The feelings of helplessness can seem unbearable when coping with the loss of a dear loved one. May you find comfort and hope from the Inspired Word at Psalm 9:9.
December 22, 2017
Don was my very favorite teacher.
He truly was always interesting, enthusiastic and was so engaging.
He will be missed!
Ellen Bohms
December 22, 2017
My deepest gratitude, Don. Like others here have remarked, you sparked my passionate and lifelong interest in math.

I admire your generosity to past students, and to the many future students who will benefit from your scholarships.

And I have no doubt that all of the many canine friends you loved over your life are wagging and jumping and licking in joy to see you again.
Dixon Jones
December 21, 2017
Don was the best math teacher I ever had. Rest in peace. You make us all proud.
Larry Meath
December 21, 2017
May God bless you and your family in this time of sorrow.
t miller
December 20, 2017
Mr. DeWitt was the best math teacher I ever had, and spurred a lifelong love of math for me. I also remember visiting him at his sandwich shop in Alaskaland in the summer of 1980 when I was working at Burger King. I remember Mr. DeWitt used to start each class with something that happened on that day in history, and that broadened our knowledge of world history in general. He always highlighted the practical uses of the math we were learning, which did indeed make me want to "know stuff." Mr. DeWitt was a unique person who charted his own path through life ~ an inspiration for all of us.
Matt Colonell
December 20, 2017
I took a lot of math from Don at Lathrop in the late 60's and early '70's. He was an excellent instructor and a likeable one to boot.

For those closest to him I offer my deepest condolences. He touched so many in a positive way.

Always interesting, never boring.

He improved my life as he did so many others by introducing us me higher Math sprinkled with his wit and opinion.

We were not close friends but I do and will remember him from time to time with fondness.

Farewell, Don.
Jon Paul Stenberg
December 19, 2017
The best and most enthusiastic math teach I've ever had. What a great obituary, I'm betting he wrote it himself! I had Mr DeWitt for WVHS Geometry and Algebra 2/Trig (which he wrote the textbook) 1983-1985, go Wolfpack.
Laurie Montano
December 19, 2017
He was truly one of a kind. Rest easy and happy trails, Mr. DeWitt. Say hello to Dali and Feynman.
David Fields
December 19, 2017
Stephen Hall
December 19, 2017
Don was teacher, friend and fellow actor. We did many shows together. What a great guy whose humour was alway there, and ,I see, still is. RIP old friend.
Bob Krize
December 19, 2017
There are many good teachers, and then there are GREAT ones. Don was one of the best. Algebra and matrix classes at Lathrop 1966 and 1967, and the curling club. All made a positive, lasting impact on me. Loved his obituary. His scholarship fund at ACF is a meaningful legacy to him. RIP Don.
Margaret Rich
December 19, 2017
It was my honor to work with Don as the Fairbanks Retired Teachers' Association scholarship chair. He was one of the most learned and intelligent people I've ever met. He is also one of the most supportive to Fairbanks education both through his own teaching and through his generous scholarship fund. Wherever he is he will be enjoyed. And we all send our thanks that we knew him.
Judy Rae Smith
December 19, 2017
Don, you made me laugh out loud again! Alas, you've kicked the bucket and we won't have a chance to enjoy your humor in person any more. Damn.

Don was my high school algebra and BASIC teacher, and actually made it enjoyable. He interoduced me to topology, which is way cooler than geometry. We kept in touch off and on, and he would occasionally send me hilarious letters to the editor for The Ester Republic.

Count me in that toast and chicken & goat card gameerservice both.
Deirdre Helfferich
December 19, 2017
What a great, great man....and an inspiration till the end, with one of the best obituaries i have ever read. The kind of American, and Alaskan, we need more of. Have a wonderful journey.... and figure out a way to tell us what's next.
david resch
December 19, 2017
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