Tribal leader retires from lifetime of service

North County Outlook

by Beckye Randall

Don Hatch Jr., known as 'Penoke,' is surrounded by photos of other tribal leaders with whom he has served at the Tulalip Tribes' administration building. Hatch will retire from the Tulalip Tribes' Board of Directors in April.

Don Hatch Jr., known as ‘Penoke,’ is surrounded by photos of other tribal leaders with whom he has served at the Tulalip Tribes’ administration building. Hatch will retire from the Tulalip Tribes’ Board of Directors in April.

When Don Hatch Jr. steps down from the Board of Directors of the Tulalip Tribes in April, it will be his final goodbye from the leadership position he has held for nearly 30 years.
His board service began, somewhat reluctantly, in 1965. At the time, Hatch was pursuing one of his lifelong passions, coaching a softball team. The girls’ parents and tribal members, led by Betty Taylor, put together a petition to nominate their respected coach for the board. Hatch accepted the nomination, won the election, and at 26, became the youngest-ever member on the tribal council.

As he serves out the last of his current board term, just a few months shy of his 74th birthday, he is now the eldest member of the board.

“The first year I just tried to learn how to be a member of the Board of Directors and respect my elders,” said Hatch. “I went a whole year without making any motions, just watching and learning.”

The young man was surrounded by family and friends who supported his journey, and a beloved wife, Barbara, with whom he had already shared six years of marriage. The largest hole in his life was created when his father died at a young age, when Don was only six years old. His mother, Molly Fryberg Hatch, raised her seven children as both mom and dad, never remarrying.

“She was tough but always loving,” Hatch recalled. “She lived on the reservation all her life and went to the boarding school as a young girl. She didn’t regret it â she said that she learned how to work there.”

That work ethic was passed down to her children, and beginning at age 8, Don Hatch began working the fishing boats with his uncle Lawrence Williams. By 12 years old, he had earned a full share of the catch, pulling his weight alongside adult men.

Hatch lived in Seattle for nearly two years while he attended vocational school, learning the carpentry trade. He put those skills to work as he helped build 13 houses on the Tulalip Reservation, including the one in which he still lives.

In 1972 he landed a job with PUD as an equipment operator. He worked for the local utility company for 20 years, while maintaining his full-time commitment to his family and his community through volunteer work and tribal leadership.

His service to the broader community expanded even further in 1989, when he decided to run for a seat on the Marysville School District Board of Directors. Hatch won that election and subsequently served 16 years on the school board, racking up more years of service than any other board member.

“I wanted to be an advocate for my people, and for all the children in the district,” said Hatch. “I took ownership of all 11,000 students. In my mind, one child lost is one too many.”

Hatch notes that his number one priority has always been his family, and his community is second on the list. But his work with children, spanning more than 50 years, is a testament to his passion for improving the lives of future generations.

For years he volunteered as a coach, referee and umpire for youth sports. Whether it was behind home plate on the baseball field, or running up and down the court refereeing basketball games, Hatch was a highly visible presence in tribal and non-tribal youth athletics. He mentored with quiet confidence, a no-nonsense work ethic, and demonstrations of respect and integrity, giving hundreds of young people a powerful role model.

Given his passion for working with young people, he was a natural fit to serve on the planning committee to bring a Boys and Girls Club to Tulalip.

“We applied for a $325,000 HUD grant to open the club, and we were told we missed the cutoff by five points,” he said. “That wasn’t the answer I wanted, so five of us went back to Washington D.C. and met with HUD officials. We found out that there was a possibility of $400,000 on the table from another club that hadn’t accepted a grant, so we pursued it and got the money.”

Hatch ran the local Boys and Girls Club for five years as it started operations. Its success is a source of pride for the humble man, as he recounts the number of kids that are served meals, cared for in after-school programs, and made to feel worthwhile.

He has also been a steward for the tribes’ elders and their families, overseeing tribal funerals for more than 20 years.

“I’ve buried probably 40 people every year, and it’s hard,” he admitted. “It’s especially hard when young people die, when the killer is drugs or alcohol. I pray everyday, to take care of my people. It’s so sad to see the damage.”

His own life has not been without hardships. Beyond losing his father when he was only six, Hatch lived with his aunt in impoverished conditions, with no running water or electricity, for part of his youth. They walked seven miles into town for supplies or entertainment, and his daily chores included picking berries and cutting wood.

“The wash basin was outside on the porch,” he remembered, “and it was definitely a wake-up when you went out there in the winter to splash water on your face.”

When his brother Lawrence was killed in a car accident in the 1960s, “I lost a part of me,” said Hatch. He made it through that tragedy with help from good friends Chuck James and Ray Price, among others.

He also lost his uncle Ray Fryberg, the man who had given Hatch his nickname of “Penoke.” Fryberg and his fishing partner drowned in a vicious storm.

“The movie ‘Pinocchio’ had just come out when I was born, and Uncle Ray liked to give all of us nicknames,” said Hatch. “He shortened Pinocchio into Penoke for me, and that’s been my nickname all my life.”

But the biggest loss was the death of his beloved Barbara in 2005, following months of illness and hospice care. They had been married for 45 years, since she was 17 and Hatch was 20.

“I won’t lie,” said Hatch. “I just wanted to die myself. If I could have crawled into the coffin with her and have them shut the lid, I would have done it.”

But instead, Hatch soldiers on, now making the decision to focus once again on his family—five children, 10 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren. His children understand their father’s commitment to his community, but they’re also glad that he’s decided to relinquish some of those day-to-day responsibilities to others.

“It was a tough battle for these many years being a Board of Directors daughter, but seeing him help all our membership all these years, in every area that is needed to make this tribe grow, makes me smile and stand tall,” wrote his daughter Denise Anderson in an email. “I know that my dad had a huge part in our tribe’s success.”

Hatch’s retirement plans sound more like a career transition—he will once again work with the Boys and Girls Club, and hopes to help bring the clubs to other tribes in the region.

In honor of Don Hatch’s commitment to Tulalip youth, the recently completed gym and youth center was named the Don “Penoke” Hatch Jr. Youth Center.

“Having the two gyms named in his honor for all the work he has done, past and present, with our youth was the biggest way of honoring him for all his hard work and dedication,” said Anderson. “Because the most important people to him in his community, aside from our elders, are the kids.”