University benefactor Donald F. Derby dies

· · · University benefactor Donald F. Derby dies

NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State University benefactor Donald F. Derby died recently in Las Vegas. He was 87.

Derby donated $60,000 to create the Donald F. Derby Endowed Professorship  in the School of Creative and Performing Arts in 1996. The gift was matched with $40,000 from the State of Louisiana to create a permanent $100,000 endowment which has benefitted the music and fine and graphic arts programs.

The endowment has funded music and art faculty research projects and travel opportunities to such places as Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, England, Russia, Spain, Toronto and several parts of the United States. These projects have produced a compact disc premiere recording, creation of new paintings, wood carvings and numerous publications of music and scholarly articles. As a result, NSU has been represented  by its faculty on a national and international level, with faculty being recognized as scholars in their respective fields.

Professor of Flute and Graduate Studies Dr. Dennette Derby McDermott, is the niece of Derby and, in 1995, was awarded the Magale Endowed professorship. This award allowed her to travel to the Czech Republic to study, perform and teach at the Janacek Academy of Music. Her uncle was able to travel there to see her perform.

“This experience inspired his generous gift after seeing the incredible benefit such an opportunity could have for a professor,” said McDermott. “Over the years, he valued learning about each recipient’s project and saved every correspondence he received from them in a special notebook that he read regularly.

Derby was born in Clare, Michigan, on a land-grant homestead that his great-grandfather received in 1870. After graduating from high school, he served in the Air Force and became a pilot and aircraft mechanic. He then attended Michigan State University where he received a Bachelor of Science in Forestry in 1962. After graduation from college, he moved his family to Redlands, California where he worked as a building inspector for the Federal Government. Derby had a love for flying that continued his entire life. He even built his own airplane from a kit that made several trips to Michigan and he even made one trip to Natchitoches to visit McDermott in 1994. He joked about how when he requested permission to land at the local airport, he had to tell the dispatcher that he did not know how to pronounce the name of our town, but he was here and needed to land.

“Among many things, his joy for life, his love for his family and his generosity in helping others continue to learn, will be a large part of Uncle Don’s legacy for those who knew him,” said McDermott. “For he was a lifelong learner himself, and he hoped that others could be, too.  Donald Derby will be missed, but what he has left NSU will continue to encourage learning and appreciation for the arts for years to come.”


Professor of Flute and Graduate Studies Dr. Dennette Derby McDermott, left, and Donald F. Derby.


About the Author:

Director of Communications at Northwestern State University. I have worked in the University's News Bureau since 1991.