Zacharias was the second longest serving president at 12 years, behind only the school's first president, Dr. Stephen Lee. He served from 1985 to 1997.
A tribute video made in 2010 as alumni honored the former president, credited him with promoting advances in technology. It said that under his tenure MSU was the first university in the state to have students complete assignments on personal computers. The school also came online and built its online presence and community under his leadership, said the school.
Enrollment, private contributions and research also grew, leading to enormous improvements on campus, said a press release from the school.
"Dr. Donald Zacharias was a transformative figure at Mississippi State University," said current Pres. Dr. Mark Keenum. "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. At our last visit during the Christmas holidays, Dr. Zacharias was still providing valuable, thoughtful counsel to me and still had the welfare of MSU students at the top of his mind. I counted him as a friend, a mentor, and an inspiration. Don Zacharias was a man of great courage and dignity, and he was one of the most influential leaders in the history of Mississippi higher education."
Zacharias was also responsible for athletic accomplishments and the building of the Sanderson Center, according to MSU.
A native of Indiana, he came to MSU from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.
A public memorial will be held on campus Thursday.