Dr. Donald W. Hatley passed away unexpectedly on December 18, 2023. The youngest of three brothers, Hatley was born on June 1, 1940, in Dike, Texas to Jasper Lee and Gladys Lucille (McDonald) Hatley. He attended Sulphur Springs High School where he was an all-star football player in the state of Texas. Don received his B.A. and M.A. from Texas A&M University in Commerce, Texas. Before earning his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, he pursued a doctorate in divinity at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.
In 1968, Hatley joined the faculty of Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana as an Assistant Professor of Languages. His early accomplishments at NSU include serving as president of the Faculty Senate and founding the Distinguished Lecture Series which brought many prominent national figures to speak at Northwestern. Along with publishing numerous academic journal articles, Hatley made countless presentations on folklife at regional, national, and international conferences.
In 1980, Don, along with H.F. Pete Gregory, created one of the most successful and long-lasting Louisiana festivals – The Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival. For two decades, Hatley directed the annual festival which was named as one of the Top 20 Monthly Tourism Events in the region by the Southeastern Tourism Association and features the long-running Louisiana State Fiddling Contest. His passion for folklore led him to create the Louisiana Folklife Center in 1976. Serving as director of the center for 23 years, he worked tirelessly to guarantee its position as a permanent agency of Northwestern State University. The folklife center continues to record and preserve Louisiana’s folk culture and has amassed over 5,000 hours of audiotape and a substantial array of resources which continue to be used by researchers around the world. Hatley developed what is known today as the Master of Arts in English: Folklife/Southern Culture Concentration. In 2004, Hatley was inducted into the Louisiana Folklife Center’s Hall of Master Folk Artists. He continued to assist with the Natchitoches-NSU Folk Festival serving as emcee for the main stage during the 2023 festival.
Hatley produced, directed, and consulted on numerous audio-visual projects for several organizations included CBS, Turner Broadcasting, and the Louisiana Division of the Arts. He was executive producer of the “The Great Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941: The Winnfield Story,” which aired on Louisiana Public Broadcasting in 2004.
For much of his life, Hatley dedicated himself to historic preservation. He was the first chairman of the Natchitoches Historic Development Commission. He was the approving agent for the National Center for Historic Preservation and Training playing a substantial role in keeping the Center on NSU’s campus and in Natchitoches.
Hatley was named Dean of the NSU College of Liberal Arts in 1997. While he served as dean, the College of Liberal Arts added new undergraduate degree programs in criminal justice and heritage resources and added a graduate degree in heritage resources. During his tenure as dean, the departments of Creative and Performing Arts and Social Sciences were renamed as Schools as a reflection of the growth and heightened standing of the programs. The Departments of Social Work and Criminal Justice were created, and the College experienced a 30 percent growth in enrollment.
The College of Liberal Arts also played an active role in public service under Hatley’s leadership through the establishment of the Louisiana Creole Heritage Center and the Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovations. Both programs brought regional and national interest to NSU.
Upon his retirement in 2008, Hatley received the titles of dean emeritus and professor emeritus concluding a 40-year career at NSU. He was honored by then Natchitoches Mayor Wayne McCullen who designated July as “Don Hatley Month” in the City of Natchitoches. Hatley received the Nth Degree in recognition of unselfish devotion to duty and the willingness to go the “extra mile” in meritorious service to mankind. When speaking about his time at NSU, Hatley said, “I am humbled by the honors I have received. It is gratifying to be recognized by those you have known and worked with for many years. I have enjoyed my time at Northwestern and the wonderful people I have worked with.”
Hatley served the community as the first Natchitoches Central High School president of the Parent Teacher Student Organization and a Natchitoches Cub Scout troop leader. He was a lifelong supporter of the Natchitoches Humane Society and advisor to the NSU chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity.
After his retirement from NSU, Hatley created a successful online book and baseball business named Don’s Bayou Books. At the time of his death, he was writing a book on boyhood experiences in northeast Texas during the 1940s, 50s and 60s.
He is survived by the love of his life and spouse of 62-years, Mikell Sue (Skeen) Hatley of Natchitoches; daughter Dr. Lesa Hatley Major and her husband Allen C. Major of Bloomington, Indiana; son, LTC John C. Hatley, currently stationed at Fort Johnson, Louisiana, and his wife Dr. Sylwia Ruschel Hatley of Heidelberg, Germany; grandson Eric Lewis; and brother Bill W. Hatley of Panama City, Florida. Don was preceded in death by his parents and brother, Jimmy D. Hatley of New Braunfels, Texas.
A Celebration of Life event for Dr. Donald W. Hatley will be held soon. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made through the NSU Foundation in support of the Dr. Donald W. Hatley and Mikell Sue Hatley endowed scholarship for liberal arts majors at https://northwesternstatealumni.com/scholarships/ or mailed to 535 University Pkwy, Natchitoches, LA 71457.