ST PETER — Saying Jim Hughes was dedicated to his job is putting it mildly.
The former assistant principal of St. Peter Middle/High School — who retired in 2008 and died Monday in a vehicle crash at age 63 — worked more than 60 hours a week, said Supt. Jeff Olson. He joked with students he had spent his entire Christmas vacation at school, and he had to be encouraged to take time off.
Olson and teacher Corinne Kreft, who worked with Hughes for 20 years, said he had a great rapport with students. At the same time, Kreft said, Hughes “called a spade a spade.”
“I think Jim really found his niche in terms of working with students,” Olson said. “I think he was particularly good at having that understanding of when students needed to be pushed and prodded and sometimes dragged into being successful as adults.”
Proof of students’ respect for Hughes’ no-nonsense advising and discipline can be found on a Rate My Professors web page.
“Mr. Hughes is awesome. Even though he’s assigned me at least 100 units of detention in my years at SPHS, he’s still a great person, and I respect him a lot,” one student wrote.
Another added: “This guy has more respect for students than anyone else in the building. You get what you give.”
Olson, who worked with Hughes for 22 years, said Hughes started working in the district in 1986. As assistant principal he served as Student Council adviser, a role he took seriously.
“He guided and led the Student Council to be service-oriented,” Olson said.
With the council, Hughes was involved every year with Santa Anonymous, helped bring the bloodmobile to school and headed up an Adopt-a-Highway program. Hughes also helped with various school activities such as homecoming, and as a black belt in taekwondo, he offered classes in his spare time.
“He was really a strong leader and a great, great confidante,” said Kreft, the current Student Council adviser. “His door was always open to the students. They knew they could come in and talk to him. And he had a great sense of humor.”
Kreft said Hughes also loved music. She recalled one time when the lead in the school play “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was sick.
“Mr. Hughes stepped in, and he knew the whole part,” Kreft said.
Olson, Kreft and numerous other school teachers and staff are dealing with the loss of a friend, not just a colleague. St. Peter Middle/High School Principal Paul Peterson said Tuesday was a sad day at school.
“Jim was a good friend,” Olson said. “(We) spent an awful lot of time together.”
Hughes of North Mankato also had two children, both who were graduates of St. Peter High School. Kreft said she and many teachers at the school had Hughes’ children in their classrooms and were thinking of them Tuesday.
“It’s been very difficult,” Kreft said. “School becomes your family.”