March 1941 – April 2011
A life-long champion of youth, Donald (Don) O. Hather, passed away at age 70 on April 7, 2011 at his home in Skagway after a period of declining health.
He enriched lives young and old, not only in Skagway, but in Hoonah, Tok and other communities where he taught and coached.
Funeral services were held at the Skagway School Gymnasium on April 12, 2011. Pastor Ryan Mandeville provided the services, and Maxine Selmer the accompaniment for the hymnals. Two good friends, Al Hill from Hoonah and Paul Kelly from Tok, both gave eulogies and read letters from past students and teachers whom Don had taught and worked with.
Pall bearers were John L. O’Daniel, Rod Jensen, Rod Fairbanks, Tim McDonald, Bill Reasoner, and Tim Fairbanks. Honorary bearers were Mike Mileski, Neal Klug and Mark Jennings. His final resting place was the Skagway Cemetery.
Don was born on March 5, 1941 to May Lucille Kasselder-Hather and C.O. Hather in Grand Island, Nebraska.
He leaves a wife of 48 years, Betty Harris-Hather, niece Lori Rivera, nephew Doug Merryman, and brother-in-law Nelson “Buzz” Merryman. He was preceded in death by his mother and father, and his sister, Eleanor Sue Merryman.
The family moved to Kearne, NE with Don at an early age. All his education was through the Kearney Public School system, and then the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where he received his teaching degree in 1964.
He went on to become a teacher and coach for the next 35 years-plus. He taught and coached in Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, and finally, Alaska. While attending the university, he participated in football and wrestling. He was inducted into the University of Nebraska Kearney’s Athletic Hall of Fame for both sports.
His main love in life was working with his students throughout the years. They were like his family and he cared for each and every one. It gave him great pleasure to see them go out into the world and be successful.
His career was filled with abundant awards. He was selected wrestling coach of the year in Nebraska and Alaska. He was inducted into the Alaska Athletic Hall of Fame for both coaching and refereeing. In 2007 he was inducted into the Alaska High School Activities Hall of Fame for coaching.
The Skagway School introduced a Don Hather Wall of Fame with Don being the first recipient, and it will be an ongoing award in his honor. He also had a Skagway Small Schools Basketball Tournament named in his honor.
After retiring to Skagway, he still kept active in the community. He was a member of Elks Lodge 431. He was an Elks Trustee, awarded Elk of the month, and the Outstanding Service and Citizenship award. He and his wife Betty were selected recipients of the Helen B. Clark Community Service Award and stayed active on the selection committee. He served on the local school board, clinic board, and election board.
He stayed active with the school, doing anything from fund-raising to helping with activities and whatever else was needed, until failing health wouldn’t permit it. When he could watch the activities at the school, it was like it breathed new life into him. His goal was to make it through to the end of the basketball season to cheer the girls on to their second State Championship. He made it and was content.
He loved the community and its people. He was so happy to be a part of it. – Submitted by the family
Editor’s note: After Don’s service, I unfortunately was unable to get to the reception, but this is what I wanted to say: My first memory of Don Hather was at a wrestling tournament in Skagway. He was the Tok coach and urging on his heavyweight, a boy just as large as Don. I can’t remember if the boy won the match, but afterwards this boy ran full speed at Don and jumped in his big arms. That was 500 pounds colliding, and Don held his ground and then raised the boy up in the air. I thought to myself, “What kind of man brings that kind of love?” And we soon found out when he and Betty moved here and brought that kind of love to our community.
Aug. 1925 – April 2011
Donald R. Thoe, 85, a lifelong outdoorsman, passed peacefully on Tuesday, April 12, 2011. Born in Lake Mills, Iowa on August 20, 1925, Don was the youngest of five children and lived in Lake Mills until he enlisted in the US Navy at the age of 17.
Don served two “hitches” in the Navy beginning in 1943. He spent eight years serving his country, beginning as an instructor on a rifle range in Idaho. His service then branched out and during his second term in the Navy he was stationed overseas on the USS Cavalier and traveled the world. Places he served and visited included Hawaii, Guam, China, Japan and other ports in Asia. Don ended his career with distinction when in 1950 the United States went to war with Korea. He operated a landing craft transporting Marines to the beaches.
In 1952 Don first laid eyes on the Skagway valley and for the past 58 years, he has rarely left it. Don and Mary Thoe were married in 1952 and have lived on the property they purchased that year, for $500, ever since. Don worked for 30 years for White Pass & Yukon Route railroad and retired in 1985. During his career at White Pass, Don also served as a Game Warden for several years in the 1950s when Alaska was a territory. This was a volunteer position that went hand-in-hand with his passion for wildlife and the outdoors; he held this job until Alaska Statehood in 1959.
Don was an avid observer and recorder of fish and wildlife in Skagway. His records date back to the early 1970s, written records of fish, marine mammals, bear, goats, sheep, and even the occasional coyote in small neatly written notebooks.
In 1985, when Don retired, he became a fixture on the local trails. He could be found at Yakutania Point or up the Skagway River for many years, walking stick in hand, dog at his side. Later into his retirement, Don continued to enjoy the Point, his favorite spot being Smuggler’s Cove, for hours watching and enjoying beautiful Alaska.
Don is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary; his daughter, Billie Evans and her husband Doug; his son Brad Thoe and his wife Courtnay; and his son Shane Thoe and his wife Lisa; and by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Don’s final wishes were to have no services, but to simply have his ashes spread in his favorite places.
– Submitted by the family
Editor’s note: The family asked that, in addition to the picture of Don, his favorite symbol, the thunderbird, accompany this obituary in his memory.