Donna Thomas and her Loyal Blue Family
Aug. 4, 2015
Dr. Donna Thomas has a hectic schedule these days overseeing the Louisiana Tech Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences, as well as being the faculty athletics representative and chair of the LA Tech Athletics Council and the Hall of Fame Committee.
This is not the busiest time in her life though. That honor goes to when her son, Patrick, was a junior in high school, her other son, Drew, was a sophomore and her daughter, Anna Claire, was in the seventh grade.
All three kids were heavy into sports, meaning there were several practices and games to attend, grades to be met and lots and lots of laundry to be done.
But Donna and her husband, Bob, managed it, somehow, someway, hardly ever missing an event.
Oh, and there was also the oldest child, Kathryn, who was attending the University of Louisiana at Monroe at the time.
"I had four kids by the time I was 26," Donna said. "I did not go to college out of high school. I did the family thing first and then when Anna Claire was starting pre-K, that was when I started college. It was Bob's suggestion.
"I had worked off and on. Kids would be born and I wouldn't work and then I would work clerical jobs like bank teller, underwriter for an insurance company, secretary, just that kind of stuff. Bob was like, `You are too smart, you need to go to college,' and it just freaked me out. I did not even know what a credit hour was. I was 30 at the time."
With the whole family settled in Monroe, Donna went to what was then Northeast Louisiana University with the intent of being a dental hygienist.
That idea was squashed pretty quickly when she took a psychology class her first semester.
"I had a teacher named Ed McGuire who was just a fantastic psychology teacher and I just loved everything he had to say, just loved the class, so I majored in psychology," Donna said. "I had no idea what I would or could do with it, I just liked it. I stayed with it and finished it in about three and a half years. I finished top of my class.
"I went straight into a master's program in experimental psychology. I finished that degree and still did not really know what I wanted to do. I really liked psychology and kind of had an idea that I wanted to teach because I was a grad assistant for a stats teacher. So I applied to the Ph.D. program [at Louisiana Tech] and got it."
After 11 years of juggling motherhood and exams, Donna Thomas became Dr. Donna Thomas in the spring of 2005 after earning her Ph.D. in counseling psychology. That fall, she took a position at Louisiana Tech as director of the counseling psychology doctoral program.
Her roots were firmly being planted at the University, as was the rest of the family.
Bob played baseball for legendary coach Pat Patterson at Tech from 1974-76, a three-year span which includes two trips to the NCAA Regionals. The two sons, Patrick and Drew, after getting their baseball pants dirty at Neville High School, later followed in his footsteps as Bulldogs despite Drew being drafted out of high school in the 45th round in the 2005 MLB Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
"Patrick graduated first and he signed with Tech in the fall of 2003 and came in 2004," Donna said. "Drew then came the next year. We did our best to tell him, `No pressure, do what you want to do,' but he decided to come to Tech. [Former head coach] Wade [Simoneaux] recruited him pretty hard. They both came here and were here from 2004 until 2010 because each of them redshirted a year."
Playing well on a diamond herself and causing her mom to do more laundry was Anna Claire, who was all-state in softball and helped the Lady Tigers to the state tournament for the first time ever when she was a senior.
After high school, Anna Claire followed suit and chose to attend Louisiana Tech, where she graduated in 2012 in journalism and is currently an athletic communications assistant at the University.
"It is kind of ironic, I think, with Bob and both boys playing sports, it is now Anna Claire and me involved in Tech athletics," Donna said. "I love it. I did not know this kind of job in athletics existed. I would have never thought of working in athletic administration. I feel like I have the best of both worlds because I really like to teach and I love sports. I'm getting to do both."
For the past eight years, Donna has been a member of the Louisiana Tech Athletics Council, initially appointed by then University President Dr. Dan Reneau.
The council is a recommending board for the president, providing advice on hiring personnel as well as serving on different subcommittees and reviewing athletic schedules for missed class time.
Then with the retirement of athletics council chairman and faculty athletics representative Dr. James Liberatos in 2014, Donna took on both roles as of last November.
"Over time, I just got more and more involved in it," Donna said. "There is way more to the FAR role than I could ever imagine. The general charge is student-athlete well-being and academics, but it encompasses practically everything. Sometimes I feel like I work in athletics. This next year will be more fun because I will get to meet the student-athletes and coaches at the beginning of the year."
As the faculty athletics representative, Donna attends almost all LA Tech home events and gets to be part of the travel party to some away football games, while also attending any bowl game or conference championship.
Even before she was the FAR, it would be a rare occasion for her to miss a home game, especially when it came to football, basketball or baseball.
Life revolves around Louisiana Tech Athletics and just sports in general for Donna. Much of that love stems from her dad, who was a huge sports fanatic and coached tennis in high school.
"He played a lot of golf and tennis and ran like a mad man the whole time we were growing up so we just kind of had to," Donna said about her and her brother. "I went to a really small private school, Tallulah Academy. I got to play basketball, and I am no basketball player whatsoever, and after junior high I realized that I needed to stop. I focused on tennis after that.
"My family was always into sports, going to all football games and basketball games and baseball games. My parents, the day they got married, they went to an LSU-Ole Miss football game. Sports is all we have ever known."
It was sports that even brought Donna and Bob together. Bob needed a mixed doubles partner in a tennis tournament in Winnsboro, Louisiana, after his got hurt. The story goes that he did not care who his partner would be, as long as she was good looking.
The name Donna Bullard was immediately thrown out there and the two joined forces on the courts. That was in May 1983 and they got married in December.
"I can't imagine what we would do if not for sports," Donna said. "Some of the faculty members are just like, `I don't get it. Do you get sick of going to that stuff?' I am going because I want to. I remember when I was getting my Ph.D. and the teacher on the first day was trying to get to know us. He said, `So what do you do for fun?' I said, `Well my boys play baseball, my daughter plays softball, my oldest daughter is a cheerleader.' He said, `What do you do for you?' I said, `That is what I do.'"
The LA Tech fandom in the family does not appear to be slowing down any time soon, even though all of her kids are graduated from college.
Donna is the proud grandparent to three granddaughters, twins Gracyn and Kennedy, and Carlyle (and a fourth on the way), all of whom belong to Kathryn and her husband Mitch.
Aside from being one of the select few to be a Neville cheerleader, Kathryn did not garner quite the same sports accolades as her siblings, having played some softball for Bob when she was younger and running in one track meet which ended with her pulling up at two hundred meters and needing to be carried off.
She is now just like her mother though, about to have four kids which means the laundry is starting to stack up more and more with the oldest girls active in softball, tennis soccer, gymnastics, etc. and routinely going to Tech games to cheer on the Bulldogs and Lady Techsters.
"When the grandkids really start talking well and understanding, we teach them the Tech logo so that anytime they see it they yell, `Tech!'" Donna said.
The teacher has certainly had plenty of practice yelling the same thing herself.
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