Rev. Thomas Gatch was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on January 28, 1833. He was educated at Ohio Wesleyan University and Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. Gatch traveled to the West coast at the age of 23, to lead colleges in California and Washington. Gatch first served as an acting president of Willamette University at the age of 27, upon the resignation of Hoyt on September 26, 1860. Gatch, already a professor of Ancient Languages and Moral Science at Willamette, was offered the position of president permanently. After serving for five years, Gatch offered his resignation when he accepted a position as head of the Portland Academy. He returned to Willamette for a second term as president in 1870.