Douglas H. Thayer
Author, 50-Year BYU Writing Professor,
Former BYH 'Hooligan'

Douglas H. Thayer, 2007
Douglas Thayer - Thanks to Marvin Kimble

Brigham Young High School
Class of 1947~H

English professor surpasses 50-year teaching mark at BYU
Thanks to Julian Cavazos
BYU NewsNet
May 11, 2007

His office walls are filled with books of notable authors of different genres, much of which is LDS literature. From his office window, he can overlook the city of Provo, something he has kept track of since he was a child during the 1930s. And by his window sits his good friend: a fake chicken.

It is the office of Dr. Douglas Thayer, a 78-year-old English professor.

"It's a Chinese-built chicken," Thayer said. "I wanted a couple of chickens to talk to, but my wife doesn't want me to have any live ones, so she bought me this one. When I retire, I'll buy a few anyway."

Thayer, well known throughout campus, reaches a milestone in his career when he hits his 50-year teaching mark in the fall of 2007.

"I think it's a compliment to myself," Thayer said. "I'm glad the department has accepted me and likes to have me around. I'm not considered a corpse."

English Department faculty members agree Thayer still holds a passion for teaching after all these years.

"He's a true wonder of nature in the enthusiasm and energy he still shows on the job," said Nicholas Mason, English associate chair. "You never get the sense that he's just hanging on. He can do it for another 10 years if he wanted to."

According to Human Resource Service's records of faculty who have worked at or retired from BYU within the last five to six years, there have been three faculty members with 50 or more years of service, including Dr. Thayer.

Thayer teaches creative writing classes such as short story, writing fiction and writing and rhetoric.

He has published two novels: Summer Fire (1983) and The Conversion of Jeff Williams (2003).

Thayer has also written two collections of short stories: Under the Cottonwood and Other Mormon Stories (1977) and Mr. Wahlquist in Yellowstone (1989), according to the English Department.

Students said they appreciate how Thayer does his best to relate to them.

"He's involved with his students," said Mary Hornby, an English major from Glonoma, Washington. "He filmed us all so he could get to know all our faces and learn our names by the end of the class."

Besides his dedication, students and English faculty also know him for something else: his boldness.

"There's a little bit of cynicism to it," said Elizabeth Wahlquist, a fellow faculty member. "He makes fun of everything, but nothing that he shouldn't. He's not afraid to say anything."

In return, the faculty has fun teasing him for his seniority within the department, Mason said.

"The faculty makes jokes about him teaching here with Karl Maeser and helping Brigham Young set up the academy," Mason said. "There are good jokes he takes in good nature; I've appreciated his sense of humor."

Thayer began teaching at BYU in 1957, when BYU's enrollment was only 9,000 students. Since then, enrollment has more than tripled.

"As I recall, there were only between six to eight buildings when I started teaching," Thayer said.

There are nearly 90 buildings today, excluding dormitories.

Thayer has taught under six BYU presidents: Ernest L. Wilkinson, Dallin H. Oaks [BYH Class of 1950], Jeffrey R. Holland, Rex E. Lee, Merrill J. Bateman and Cecil O. Samuelson.

Growing up in Provo, Thayer said his mother commonly used the phrase "work won't kill you."

"She demanded that we all work," he said. "To be lazy was terrible."

The Thayer family children were raised under humble circumstances during the 1940s, he said.

"We certainly didn't have very much money," he said. "By today's standards, we might be thought of as marginally poor, but we never thought of it. We never starved, always having food to eat."

Thayer held various jobs in his youth to help pay the bills, such as catching night crawlers, delivering newspapers, and washing dishes.

Doug Thayer, Junior,1946 Wildcat Yearbook
Doug Thayer at BYH in 1945-1946

At 17, he joined the army and was sent to Frankfurt, Germany. A few years later, he was called to serve on a 30-month mission in that same place. Thayer later graduated from BYU, and went on to Stanford and the University of Iowa.

Thayer returned to BYU to teach creative writing and has been here ever since. He and his wife have six children.

He has recently written a memoir called Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood and a novel called Beneath, according to the English Department. As a full-time professor and first counselor in a BYU student ward, he said he just keeps on going.

"I'll retire in the next year or two, I expect," he said. "But I still get to the office at quarter to 8, put in my forty-five hours a week in the office. I'm in good health. I get paid well. I'm glad I'm still publishing. I enjoy being here. It's useful and significant."

Source: BYU News Net

Brief BYH Biography

Douglas Thayer, BYH Thespian, 1946
Douglas Thayer grew up in Provo, Utah, in the thirties and forties. He spent most of his free time hiking in the mountains, swimming in the Provo River and Utah Lake, and hunting and fishing. His fiction reflects this life-long interest in the outdoors.

A member of the Brigham Young High School Class of 1947, he was a member of the Thespians. He left BYH a year before graduation, when he was seventeen, to join the Army. He served in Germany, and later returned to Germany as a missionary.

He has worked variously as a construction laborer, summer ranger at Yellowstone Park, dishwasher, janitor, driller's helper, insurance salesman, and on a railroad track gang.
He earned a BA in English from BYU, an MA from Stanford, and an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Iowa. He started doctoral programs at both Stanford and the University of Maryland before realizing that what he wanted to do was write fiction.

Thayer is married to Donlu DeWitt, and they have six children. His hobbies include reading, trying to learn to play the piano, and fly-fishing Utah canyon streams that most fishermen pass by.

By the fall of 2007, Douglas Thayer will have taught creative writing at Brigham Young University for a half century. "I wonder what Anna B. Hart would say about my long tenure?" he muses.

In Memoriam
Douglas Thayer
Class of 1947~Honorary

Doug Thayer was born April 19, 1929 to Lily Nora Thatcher and Edward "Frank" Thayer. Doug was the consummate Provo boy. He grew up hiking the mountains overlooking his town, roaming the fields, fishing the streams, swimming in the Provo River.

Doug was a noted short story writer and novelist - called "the Mormon Hemingway" and "the grandfather of modern Mormon fiction".

His memoir, "Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood", captured the life of a boy growing up in Provo during the Great Depression.

In recognition of Doug's ties to the community, Mayor Lewis Billings proclaimed Doug's 75th birthday "Douglas Thayer Day" in Provo.

All his life, Doug worked hard without complaint. As a boy, he scrubbed and cleaned the old Sixth Ward Meetinghouse and the Clark Clinic with his mother, the indomitable Lil.

He found jobs - collecting night crawlers in the dark from neighbors' lawns to sell to waiting fishermen, sweeping floors and washing dishes in cafes, delivering papers. As a young man he worked at the office of the Provo Herald, as a helper on a uranium drill rig, a construction laborer, a railroad section hand, and a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone National Park.

In 1946, Doug dropped out of BY High School to join the Army, serving with the US Occupation Forces in war-shattered Germany, an experience that changed his life and greatly influenced his writing.

He returned to Germany for 30 months as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Back in Provo he took a bachelor's degree in English at BYU, then did graduate work at Stanford (MA American Lit), University of Maryland (PhD study), and the University of Iowa (MFA Fiction Writing).

He taught at BYU for 54 years, serving as Coordinator of Composition, Director of Creative Writing, Associate Chair in the English Department, and Associate Dean of the College of Humanities.

Doug was an avid Scouter, from Senior Patrol Leader and Eagle Scout under the mentorship of Harold B. Jones, to decades guiding others (including four sons) towards their Eagles. He served on Scout committees into his eighties.

As a young man he hunted and fished with his sidekicks Dean Conant and the Jones clan. In his mellowing years he perfected fly fishing - the cast and the art of catch-and-release - with his friend and colleague Eugene England, who passed away in 2001. He kept fishing with Dean, Scouts, sons, grandsons, and his new ace buddy Randy Rogers, almost to the end.

A lifelong member of the LDS Church, Doug held the office of seventy after his mission and until local units of seventy were discontinued in 1974. He served on lesson-writing committees for the Church, in three bishoprics, and on two high councils, and in his seventies quorum volunteered to be the Ward Representative supervising the meetinghouse cleaning crews.

Doug married Donlu DeWitt in the Salt Lake City LDS Temple in 1974.

Long accustomed to walking to and from BYU every day, he kept up the practice, from their home on First South and then from the home they built in Edgemont in 1978, where their six children grew up.

Doug's habits were regular and sound. His students, colleagues, friends, and neighbors knew his relentless wit and dry humor, and his trustworthiness, and his selfless, unheralded service.

Doug published four collections of short stories and four novels. His work includes prizes from "Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought", the P. A. Christensen Award, the Association for Mormon Letters Prize in the Novel, the Karl G. Maeser Creative Arts Award, the Utah Institute of Fine Arts Award in the Short Story, and the 2008 Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters.

Douglas Heal Thayer, 88, died at home in Provo, Utah, during October, in his favorite season of the year. His third battle with cancer finally took its ultimate toll on October 17, 2017.

Doug was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Rowland, and his sister Marlene. He is survived by his brother Robert (Brigitte) Thayer, his wife, and their six children, their spouses, and their 21 "offspring", whom he adored: Emmelyn (Steven) Freitas and Vivienne; Paul (Sharolyn Shields) and Marcus, Aaron, Heather, Justin, Spencer & Alice; James (Elizabeth Benson) and Benson, William, Anna, Simon, Madeline & Sara; Katherine (Jonathan) Willson and Jacob & Lilian; Stephen (Amy Finnell) and Maxwell, Miles & Alexander; and Michael (Jill Myers) and Abigail, Owen & Sienna.

Funeral services were held on Saturday, October 28, 2017 at the Edgemont South Stake Center, 2950 North 350 East (Canyon Road), Provo, Utah. Interment, Provo City Cemetery.

Special thanks to Deseret News
October 26, 2017

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