Mary Beth Hughes’ Arkansas Tech credentials are in impeccable order.
Her grandfather, Claude A. Hughes, served on the faculty from 1927-59 and was the standard bearer for the institution’s agricultural roots for more than three decades.
Her father, C.A. “Al” Hughes, was among the 104 Tech students chronicled by Life magazine when they were mobilized from the National Guard for active duty during World War II.
Her uncle was none other than J.W. Hull, the longest-serving president in Arkansas Tech history (1932-67) and the person who led the institution’s transformation from small, two-year college to modern, four-year university.
So regardless of where she went—and she saw a world far beyond the Arkansas River Valley—Tech remained close to Mary Beth’s heart.
“When I went to Tech, I knew where all the nooks and crannies were,” said Mary Beth. “It was like being home. You learned how to get along with people. You had professors who knew your name. If I failed a test, my granddad knew it before I did.”
Mary Beth recalls she was often her grandfather’s “right-hand” person when she was young, particularly while her father was serving in Korea.
“He was my buddy,” said Mary Beth in describing her grandfather. “I was at his side all the time as I grew up. Anytime I had a problem or an argument with my parents, granddad was there.”
Claude A. Hughes’ efforts to improve and promote the Tech farm included conducting contests pitting horse-drawn tools against tractor-driven equipment, inviting Arkansas farmers to view the operations at Tech and learn about new methods in agriculture, hosting livestock shows and experimenting with irrigation.
Mary Beth proudly recalls that when her grandfather died, the gathering of mourners at First United Methodist Church in Russellville was both large and racially diverse.
Claude A. Hughes is remembered on the ATU campus with the naming of Hughes Hall, which was constructed in 1940 and remains known to many as the “rock dormitory.” It was named in honor of Hughes during the 1955 ATU Homecoming celebration.
“He was wonderful,” said Mary Beth. “He was kind and gentle. He was a hard-working person. He was just a good soul, and he still is wherever he is.”
Mary Beth’s father and mother—Mary Louise Henry Hughes—met when they were 5 years old.
“Mother often said she should’ve put his tricycle off the edge of the sidewalk when she had the chance,” said Mary Beth.
They were married for 67 years until Al’s death.
“When my father died, I went out and bought the two most expensive cigars I could find,” said Mary Beth. “I put them in his pocket so he and my grandfather could smoke them together.”
Following her graduation from Arkansas Tech, Mary Beth taught for 34 years—three in Fayetteville and the other 31 in a variety of locales around the globe. In all, she has lived in or traveled to 85 countries on six continents.
Wherever she went, she applied the lessons she learned at Arkansas Tech from professors such as P.K. Merrill, Lillian Massie and David Krueger.
“Mr. Krueger...I cannot say enough about him,” said Mary Beth, who is retired and living in Fayetteville. “He amazed me to no end. You could ask a question, and he would answer everything you ever needed to know, and then go right back to where he left off and begin again. I learned more in his classes than in any class I’ve ever taken. I still have my lessons from economic geography, and when I would teach I would use those.”
Now, Mary Beth’s substantial family legacy at Arkansas Tech will be forever remembered through the Hughes and Henry Family Scholarship, which she endowed through the Arkansas Tech University Foundation.
The scholarship will provide tuition and books assistance to students enrolled in the special education master’s degree program at ATU.
“Tech has always been a place where they welcomed you in regardless of where you came from,” said Mary Beth. “I was not a special education teacher, but I was often assigned to work with children who had disabilities. Teachers who help children overcome problems such as those know they can do anything.”
-For the Tech Action, Fall 2020