Ford W Hughes (1922-1999) received the Pugsley Medal in 1991. He was born in Marie, Arkansas, and attended high school at Williford, Arkansas. After high school he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps and was stationed at Vichy Air Base where he met and married Betty Lu Laun of St. James, Missouri. He attended the University of Missouri at Columbia, graduating in 1950 with a B.S. in vocational education.
Since his wife came from St. James, Hughes visited the community regularly in the late 1960s. From 1950 to 1955 Hughes taught in the vocational agricultural program at John F. Hodge High School in St. James, and then moved to teach vocational agriculture at Clopton High School near Clarksville, Missouri for the next three years. During this time period, he was the owner and editor of a local newspaper from 1954 to 1957, and he completed a master's degree in agricultural vocational education at the University of Missouri in 1957.
Close to the Hodge High School, there was an 1,800-acre site of attractive land. It had been the site of an iron works. The site's owner created a foundation and instructed that upon her death the site was to pass to the foundation along with buildings on the land and a $2.5-million cash endowment (which by the new millennium had grown to over $40 million). When Hughes was at Hodge High School, he told the foundation's trustees that if they ever decided to transform it into a park, he would like to be considered for the job of park superintendent. In 1959, he received a call inviting him to an interview for the position with the land's trustees in New York City, and he was given responsibility for developing the site into Meramec Spring Park.
Hughes was appointed superintendent in 1959. In 1962, his title, and responsibilities were upgraded to vice-president and regional manager of the James Foundation. In addition to the Meramac Spring Park, the foundation had a 56-acre tract in St. James, and he was charged also with developing it into a park. He oversaw the development and growth of Meramec Spring Park into one of Missouri's premier park and recreation facilities. It evolved into a highly used and diversified public-use area, offering trout fishing, playgrounds, shelters, and historic structures in a natural setting. Hughes added campgrounds, an agricultural museum, and a nature museum. He introduced Old Iron Works Days to bring some of the history of the Meramec Iron Works to the attention of visitors from across the state. Hughes once described his philosophy in the following terms:
One of the greatest events of my career was to leave the teaching profession and become involved in a new profession -- parks and recreation. My feelings for this profession derived from the satisfaction of seeing my efforts and energy produce good things for my fellow man, especially children. My philosophy from the beginning was that the parks and recreation field touched more lives than any other field of employment I knew, and that it was equal to any profession in helping people of all ages enjoy life.
There is no more noble profession than striving to protect our natural heritage. The use of trees, grass, land, and water properly handled is a godsend. Especially gratifying is the thrill of watching youngsters enjoy the recreation made possible by the availability of our resources. There is nothing more beautiful and alluring to me than a piece of this earth that is available for people to enjoy. I don't believe that God intended for us to work all the time. We should stop to enjoy park and recreation facilities that provide escape from the pressures created in other areas of our lives.
His influence extended beyond the confines of the park to other areas in the community. He oversaw the building of a new city hall, a "face lift" of downtown St. James, and the development of the Plaza in downtown St.James. One of his most ambitious projects that brought national visibility to St. James was the planting of 35,000 trees in the community. Additional recreational needs were met by Hughes through the development of the 56-acre St.James Park and Lake Sciota built in 1965 in the center of the community. It contained a swimming pool complex, tennis courts, nature trails, ball fields, fishing piers, and picnic grounds. The foundation developed and operated the James Memorial Library, which is a regional library serving an eight-county region, and it contracted with the city to operate a nine-hole municipal golf course and a cemetery, which includes the gravesite of the original benefactor of the foundation.
Ford used the foundation's resources to launch the influential St. James Symposium Series. This Symposium was convened every two years to bring leaders in the parks and recreation field together to address major issues. Typically, 30 to 35 leaders were invited to exchange ideas and subsequently disseminate them.
Hughes' adopted hometown of St. James was the fortunate recipient of his untiring advocacy, support and affection for the area. His energy, enthusiasm, compassion, and warmth resulted in him being elected to leadership positions in a host of local, state, and national professional associations. Among them were terms as president of the Missouri Parks and Recreation Association, and president of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration of which he was a founding member.
(1999, December 1). Ford W. Hughes, 1922-1999 Obituary. St. James Leader-Journal.