Donald W. Zacharias, who spent six years as president of Western Kentucky University and then led Mississippi State University, has died of complications from multiple sclerosis, Mississippi State said Sunday. He was 77.
He died late Saturday night, said daughter-in-law Sarah Zacharias of Boulder, Colo.
Zacharias was born in Salem, Ind., and taught at Indiana University and the University of Texas, where he moved into administration. He became WKU's sixth president in 1979 and served until Aug. 31, 1985, before going to Mississippi State.
Zacharias was president of Mississippi State from 1985 to 1997. Only founding president Stephen D. Lee served longer, the university said in a news release.
“Donald Zacharias was a transformative figure at Mississippi State University,” university President Mark E. Keenum said. “He really helped bring MSU into the modern era, and he did so by developing a broad vision for the leadership that Mississippi needed from a land grant university.”
Enrollment, private contributions, research and athletic achievement all grew significantly under Zacharias, and MSU became home to one of a handful of Engineering Research Centers funded by the National Science Foundation, the university said. MSU became nationally known for use of technology in the classroom and created the state’s first site on the Internet, according to the news release.
Enrollment rose to Mississippi’s highest, at almost 16,000. African-American enrollment more than doubled to 2,200 — 15 percent of the student body and the highest percentage among SEC schools.
Zacharias is survived by his wife, Tommie Kline Zacharias of Starkville, their three adult children and three grandchildren, all of Boulder, Colo., and by a sister in Yucaipa, Calif.
When he resigned in 1997, Zacharias said: “I saw things in Mississippi State University that others might not have seen. I felt that I had made the right decision to be at this university because I liked both what it stood for and its overall character. I liked its mission, and I liked the students and alumni. I saw the potential.”
Funeral arrangements were incomplete. Zacharias’ family will release details through Mississippi State, but a public memorial service is tentatively planned on campus on Thursday, the university said.