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Posted on Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Drowning victim Donovan Hyter remembered as an authentic, loving 'Renaissance man'

By Kellie Woodhouse


Ashlei and Mike Hyter Jr. hold family photos of their 21-year-old brother Donovan Hyter as they remember him while in their family home on Tuesday, July 2, 2013. Donovan drowned after jumping off of a bridge into the Huron River while out with friends over the weekend. Ashlei holds a photo of Donovan receiving his diploma and Mike Jr. holds a family photo showing Donovan, Ashlei, her 2-year-old daughter Donatella and himself.

Melanie Maxwell |

On Friday evening Ashlei Hyter was folding and refolding paper as she watched video tutorials on YouTube, trying to make the perfect origami lily for a friend's bridal shower.

Her brother Donovan saw his sister struggle, picked up the paper and swiftly folded the flower into existence. He had studied origami years before.

"He was just killing it. He had the most fantastic list of random talents," she recalled.


Donovan Hyter during a performance at the Neutral Zone.

Courtesy photo | Neutral Zone

Less than two days later, 21-year-old Donovan Gerard Hyter drowned in the Huron River after jumping from a railroad trestle east of Superior Road with four friends early Sunday morning. His body was recovered about 5:15 p.m. Monday.

Police still are investigating the circumstances of his death. Officials say the early, dark hour combined with quickly moving water, due to high rainfall levels, created especially dangerous conditions in the river.

"A lot of the reactions that I am seeing in the community are like 'Why him?' because he was just a kind-hearted, gentle spirt and it's just shocking," said Danny Brown, a friend who mentored Donovan in high school. Brown coordinates leadership programs at the Neutral Zone, a teen center in Ann Arbor that Donovan attended all four years of high school.

"He was always someone you could rely on to be calm and stable and just care for everyone. It's weird to see. If this were somebody else he would be the one who is taking care of everybody."

Donovan graduated from Huron High School in 2010 and went to Western Michigan University for a year before moving back to Ann Arbor. He worked as a salesman and was interested in graphic design, and he planned to enroll in courses at Washtenaw Community College in the fall.

Friends and family remember Donovan as a true Renaissance man: a loving brother, talented musician and caring friend. He taught himself martial arts at a young age and would practice backflips in the backyard.

He was a dedicated yo-yoer - perhaps the best in Ann Arbor, his family says. He owned about 20 yo-yos and went to conferences, honing his yo-yo skills with other enthusiasts. He liked to longboard and he wrote poetry, which he worked into rap lyrics. He wrote and performed songs at the Neutral Zone, where his brother Mike Hyter Jr. worked and where he would hang out after high school.

"He and some of his classmates would come after school and they would just work on writing techniques and performance techniques. He got really good at it. It was cool, as like a brother who also does music, to see him get better at it as time went on," Mike said.

"He was really multi-talented. Everything he put his mind to he would just excel at," he continued. "He was a breakdancing, yo-yoing, self-trained kung fu master who rapped."

Donovan also was a savvy dresser, carefully coordinating his clothes while simultaneously keeping a tight budget, his siblings say. He was inventive, buying a shelf for $20 from Borders as the Ann Arbor-based company was shuttering and using it as a shoe rack.

Staff at the Neutral Zone remember him for his unflappable kindness.


Donovan Hyter

Courtesy photo

"He's just a really nice kid: a super good listener, always willing to help you," said Lori Roddy, associate director of the Ann Arbor nonprofit. Added community relations director Mary Moffet: "He was just like a big teddy bear. He was a very sweet, polite, funny guy."

Donovan curated a Neutral Zone talent show concert during his senior year, also performing in four of roughly 20 acts. He was a member of the Huron Trash Talkers, a performance group that used trash cans and other items as drums.

"He did everything," Brown said. "I've worked with a lot of different people at the Neutral Zone and he was one of those kids who cut through every single boundary. He had friends and connections in every single consituency of people at the Zone, and it was always authentic.

"It was really just beautiful to watch."

His sister Ashlei said her brother was a dedicated worker.

"Anything Donovan did, he did well," Ashlei said. "He didn't know how to phone it in."

Donovan is survived by his two siblings, Mike and Ashlei; his mother, Danah Greer; his niece, Donatella; his father, Mike Sr.; stepmother, Letitia; and step siblings Ten and Ace. , He was close with his two older siblings. All three live in Ypsilanti with their mother.

"We love our brother. I've never seen siblings like us," Ashlei said through tears. "This was the crew."

They'd gather in the living room at night and talk and watch television programs like "Nurse Jackie" and "Shameless" together. The trio, along with Ashlei's daughter, went out to breakfast every weekend, going to places like Beezy's and Leo's Coney Island. Donovan often picked Mike up from work.

"I would always tell him if I was having a bad day and he would be like 'Dude, stop complaining. Be more proactive,' " Mike recalled.

"It was an approach that he started taking in his life more recently. Like he started getting really into —because he wanted to get a new job— working on his resume and he got it to be really good and went out and bought a bunch of new shirts for interviews, and he was getting a lot of callbacks," Mike continued.

"He inspired me to be a better person. He was really good at planning stuff out."

Ashlei said her brother was perhaps the most rational member of the family.

"Donovan, when he said something, it was like something necessary. It was something that stuck. He was very logical," Ashlei said. "He was so good at just pointing out the right thing to do."

Both Mike and Ashlei say they'll remember their brother as someone who was wholly unique, who worked toward self betterment and who enthusiastically took on new endeavors.

"He was like no one you've ever seen before," Ashlei said.

Funeral and memorial arrangements for Donovan were still being planned as of Tuesday evening.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602 and follow her on twitter.



Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:24 p.m.

The saddest story I've read on M-Live. What a tragedy.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:23 p.m.

Hey Neutral Zone, how 'bout it? Would you accept donations for a Donovan Hyter memorial scholarship? With the family's blessing, of course?


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 6:28 p.m.

Heartfelt condolences to the family. May God walk with you, bless and keep you during this horrible time.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 3:28 p.m.

What an early inspiration. After reading this story I feel as if I lost my best friend. He reminds me so much of myself, I did all those things with the exception of the kung fu....I'm sorry for your loss or shall I say our loss. Donovan could have done much good as a role model in the black community or any community for that matter. Could you imagine if the school systems restored the arts programs for our youth, I bet that would cut crime in half. Angels are sent to us for a reason, although their time is limited and those that were blessed to be "touch by this angel" sure are some lucky folks. Big ups to your family...and Mom and Dad for doing such a great job with you all. I believe his message was Love one another no matter what race and be the best you can be...we all have this ability to shine sometimes it takes people like Donovan to be a shinning example. That means respect others, give a smile (they're Free), give a compliment, hold the door(especially for elders) and make your parents the coustodial guy that worked at Washtenaw Community College told me "never let them get in your head" (never let the media define who you are) always be the best you can that I'm 40 i finally realize what he meant. Don't let the world stop you from being the best you can be. alot of you remember the guy that spoke to at least 1,000 students entering the building. The funny thing is most of you thought he was weird, but little did you know that he is an angel and shinning example of how people should be.....Love you all!


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 3:05 p.m.

A sweet sweet young man! What a tragic loss!

Joel A. Levitt

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:58 p.m.

So sorry. Wish I had known Donovan.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:49 p.m.

I didn't know him, but he sounds like a cool guy. May peace come to his family and friends.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:48 p.m.

Thanks so much for allowing us to learn about this man as a person and not just a headline in the paper. His life mattered to those who knew him and now we can know him as well, if only through those who loved him. RIP Donovan.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:44 p.m.

I didn't know Donovan, but I feel the loss for his family as well as our community. My thoughts are with the Hyter family this heart-breaking week.

Lisa D

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:29 p.m.

Though his life was heartbreakingly short, Donovan's spirit will shine brightly in the thousands of lives he's touched in his brief time on earth. Deepest condolences to his remarkable, loving and beloved family, his NZ family and the Hip Hop community. Lisa Dengiz


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 2:04 p.m.

What a special, talented guy. I'm sure he will be missed by many. Maybe a Neutral Zone Scholarship in his memory?

James Toy

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 8:48 p.m.

My sincere sympathy to Donovan's family and friends and colleagues. The Scholarship idea sounds more than appropriate if Neutral Zone finds it so.

Cathy Shukait

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 1:42 p.m.

This article says it all! He will be missed by many and this family has my sincere sympathy. May his life continue on with the attributes he distributed to sooooo many. R.I.P.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

I am so very sorry for your loss. 21 is too young to die. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:42 p.m.

My thoughts and prayers are with the family at this time. Thank you for sharing the story about Donovan who surely was a kind-hearted, gentle soul.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:32 p.m.

my daughter knew Donovan and described him in similar ways. it sounds as if he made a real stamp on the world in the short time he was here. What a loss.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

Such a wonderful tribute to this beautiful family and young man. Thank you for sharing with all of us and you remain in our prayers.

Linda Peck

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 11:24 a.m.

This is such a loving tribute to this very special young man. I send prayers and blessings to Donovan Hyter and all of his family. He was and is so loved.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:47 a.m.

Thank you for this story. It is truly tragic what happened to Donovan. He would have done such great things in his lifetime. I am so very sorry for the loss of this sweet man and pray for his family. Rest in peace, Donovan.

Paula Gardner

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:40 a.m.

@Walid, I was just thinking that I feel like I learned a lot about him from reading this. I also learned a lot from him just in these paragraphs, too. "He inspired me to be a better person" is a wonderful testimonial from his sister, and a meaningful legacy from him.

Walid Yassir

Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:36 a.m.

His spirit really comes through in this story. It's obvious how special this young man was. I am sorry for your loss.


Wed, Jul 3, 2013 : 10:31 a.m.

So sad for this lovely family. RIP Donovan Hyter.