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Community, colleagues celebrate life of Jerry Hughes


2 p.m. sharp. Just the way Jerry Hughes would’ve liked.

Family, friends, professional acquaintances and members of the general public gathered inside the Sandra Temple Elliott Ballroom to celebrate the life of the longtime University of Central Missouri Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics on Thursday, Jan. 26.

The ceremony began on time to the second, just like Hughes emphasized for all events in the world of UCM Athletics through his 40-year tenure as Athletic Director.

“Jerry loved to start on time,” said Shawn Jones, current Henderson State Director of Athletics, a previous assistant and associate athletic director under Hughes for 13 years. “We started on time today, didn’t we? Unless it was his meeting. Then it was OK to start 15 minutes late. That’s called Jerry time … He was ready when he was there and you better be ready whether he walked in five minutes, 10 minutes or 15 minutes late. But Jerry, we started on time today.”

Hughes died Jan. 21, in Kansas City, Kansas, after battling a brief illness. He had been with UCM Athletics since being named assistant athletics director in July 1981.

On Jan. 20, 1983, Hughes was named Central Missouri’s Director of Athletics. He recently shared with current UCM President Dr. Roger Best that he was first given the interim position by President James Horner, who was in office from 1979-85.

“They let Jerry know he was going to appoint Jerry as the interim Athletics Director,” Best said. “Jerry’s response was to tell the president he should just name him as Athletics Director and save a search. ‘After all,’ Jerry reasoned with the president, ‘you could just fire me if I do a bad job’ … I can confirm letting the president know what was probably the best course of action lasted for Jerry’s entire 40-year tenure as Head Mule.”

Hughes’ leadership spanned six different presidencies and combined for 120 different seasons of intercollegiate athletics for the Mules and Jennies.

Along the way, he fought for the betterment of the athletics experience at an institutional, MIAA and NCAA Division II level.

He is the only person at the Division II level to serve a term as NCAA Vice President and on the NCAA Council.

Among many other accomplishments, Hughes is a member of the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and received the Division II Conference Commissioners Association Award of Merit.

“You could not separate the man from the job,” Jones said. “This was a lifestyle to Jerry for 40 years. It was not a vocation. [His family] graciously understood and joined him and supported him as he built this department to one of the best in the country at any level. He did it just like the Mule that he was. He was stubborn, he was tough, he could occasionally be a little mean. He would kick when he needed to … But, he always got the job done, no matter the conditions.”

Hughes’ tenure at UCM brought 10 national championships and 50 other top-four NCAA finishes through over 300 postseason appearances.

Along the way, he helped oversee several state-of-the-art facilities at UCM, including the Audrey J. Walton Stadium and Vernon Kennedy Field, James R. Crane Stadium and Robert N. Tompkins Field, South Recreation Complex, Audrey J. Walton Clubhouse, Mules National Golf Club and the Roger Denker Wrestling Facility.

Hughes also brought a long list of coaches to the University of Central Missouri, many of whom were on hand during Thursday’s service.

“It is not a hyperbole to say Jerry Hughes is one of the most successful and accomplished intercollegiate athletic directors the profession has ever seen,” Jones said. “For those of you familiar with social media, they could replace the goat emoji with a picture of Jerry. He was the goat … What that means is, he was the greatest of all time. The goat.”

Hughes accounted for the longest-tenured leader on the University of Central Missouri Presidents Council.

He often suggested what he would do if he was president to Best and other past UCM leaders, but never used his tenure as authority.

“On many occasions, he reminded me he only served for the pleasure of the president,” Best said. “If I ever wanted him to go, he would. Truth be though, I think nobody in this room felt that would ever be the case. I, for one, always had a high degree of confidence that Jerry would be leading and guiding his seventh president, long after my time was done. After all, Jerry was supposed to live forever. Jerry, my friend, what an incredible season you had.”

Hughes is survived by his wife, Victoria, of Warrensburg; children Greg Hughes (Catrina) of Vienna, Virginia, Parker Waite of Warrensburg, Chad Hughes of Warrensburg, and Ashley Ruzich (Matthew) of Hendersonville, North Carolina; grandchildren Tanner, Rylie, Dalton, Wyatt, Fallon, Kaiser, Logan and Sofie; sister Candy Stephens (Ronnie) of Warrensburg; and numerous extended family.

Memorial contributions can be made to the UCM Alumni Foundation directed to Mule Train - General or the Eleanor G. Hughes and Carol Dyetta Hughes Literacy Program.

Joe Andrews can be reached at 660-747-8123.