MARYSVILLE — On his final day as a Marysville School Board member, Don Hatch called the district’s administration office and asked for a form to volunteer at school.
“Which school are you interested in?” the superintendent’s assistant asked.
“All of them, the whole district,” he said.
Monday marked the end of the line for Hatch as a member of an elected board that makes decisions affecting 11,000 students and how a $109 million annual operating budget should be spent.
For 16 of the past 20 years, Hatch has spent at least two Mondays a month in board meetings and countless more hours on district business. Although not the first tribal member to serve on the board, Hatch has served longer than any other Tulalip member in the history of the 122-year-old district.
Hatch, 70, decided not to seek re-election this fall. He hopes people will remember him as an independent thinker who wasn’t shy about saying his piece in simple, concrete terms and challenging others to speak their minds. Mainly, he said he tried to advocate for children, tribal and nontribal alike.
“A lot of time people would say ‘out there,’ and ‘out there’ was always the reservation,” Hatch said. “Out there is where I represent, but I always thought I’m part of the school board covering the whole district.”
Long-time Tulalip resident Maureen Hoban remembers telling Hatch in the late 1980s that he should run for the school board because of his extensive community involvement.
In 1985, Hatch served as chairman of the Tulalip Tribes’ Board of Directors, as well as the tribes’ education and housing authority committees. He also was chairman of his church council and the tribes’ blood bank while dashing up and down the court as a high school basketball referee. All the while, he held down his job as an equipment operator for the Snohomish PUD.
Hatch was hesitant to run for the school board. He wondered if anyone knew of him off the reservation.
“I think Don was surprised how many friends wanted to help with the campaign,” Hoban said. “Still uncertain whether anyone would vote for him, Don was stunned by his landslide victory.”
It was a meaningful moment for Hatch, one of seven children to grow up in a two-bedroom house with no indoor plumbing. When Hatch was 6, his father died of a heart attack. Donald Hatch Sr. was just 35.
Each morning before school, regardless of the weather, Hatch would walk outside at his mother’s insistence and splash cold water across his face to be clean for the day. Relatives looked out for his family, sharing deer meet, ducks and fish or a ride to town because they couldn’t afford a car.
“I had a lot of fathers and they were my uncles,” Hatch said. “We had the woods. We had the water. To me, we had everything.”
Lawrence Williams taught him to fish and to work hard. At 8, he was learning to pull his weight by pulling nets. Another uncle, Frances Sheldon, was a source of wisdom and advice.
Everyone made sure Hatch went to school and got there on time. He graduated from Marysville High School in 1959.
Over the years, Hatch heard painful comments about tribal kids.
None stings more than the day a tribal student jokingly held the door shut on their high school woodshop teacher.
Angry and red faced, the teacher burst into the classroom, Hatch recounted. “He said, ‘All you Indians ought to get back to the reservation where you belong,” Hatch said. “It happened more than 50 years ago, and it still burns.”
Hatch hopes he has brought the tribes and city closer together. Years ago, he urged the school board to begin having twice-a-year meetings with the tribes’ board of directors, a practice that continues today.
At a school board meeting Monday night, tribal members from as far away as Puyallup pounded deerskin drums and chanted in unison to recognize Hatch’s 16 years on the board. Tribal and nontribal well-wishers came to say thanks.
Tulalip Tribal Chairman Mel Sheldon said Hatch blazed a path for future tribal leaders by showing them “they could be part of the community on both sides of I-5.”
Marlin Fryberg said Hatch set an example for him to set for others by getting involved.
“I’m a product of what he wanted me to become,” said Fryberg, a law enforcement officer, tribal board member and volunteer.
The board chambers were packed and a steady stream of tribal members, family, educators, coaches and childhood friends, paid tribute to Hatch. A letter was read from Gov. Chris Gregoire and a proclamation from Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall.
Superintendent Larry Nyland gave Hatch a blanket on behalf of the school board and district. The blanket’s theme was a “father’s eyes,” which seemed to capture how Hatch went about his business on the board.
“Your heart for children has made a difference in the lives of thousands of students,” Nyland said.
Former school board member Tom King said Hatch was instrumental in getting a large first-class gym built at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, but he remembers him most for advocating for children.
“I always had a lot of admiration for him,” he said.
Hatch also played a grass-roots role in making sure the Tulalip Boys &Girls Club was built on the reservation.
Hatch stepped down Monday night so Chris Nation, his newly elected successor, could take his oath of office and vote on who would be president and vice president of the school board for the coming year. Earlier in the day, Hatch took Nation on a drive across the reservation, giving advice and explaining important tribal landmarks.
Hatch said he wished his wife, Barbara, could have been part of Monday’s ceremony. They were married for 45 years before she died about five years ago.
There will be plenty to keep Hatch busy in the future.
He’ll fill up a truck and drive down to Seattle with donated coats for homeless people as he has done three times already this year. He will help with blood drives and be a steady hand at tribal funerals.
He’ll continue on as a leader of St. Anne’s Mission Parish on the reservation.
“Few are aware that the unassuming man who sits in the back pew at weekly Mass is the glue that’s held this small Catholic parish together throughout his adult life,” Hoban said.
Hatch said he will be an occasional visitor to school board meetings, but hopes to find a useful role at any Marysville school where he can help.
“I’m going to volunteer for the rest of my life,” he said. “That’s what I want. I’m not done with my life. That’s for darn sure.”
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, firstname.lastname@example.org.