When Leona Hughes arrived in Athens in the fall of 1926 as a freshman from tiny Oak Hill, Ohio, she brought a strong work ethic, a regard for education that she attributed to her Welsh roots and a determination to make her mark on Ohio University. Make a mark she did -- throughout a more than eight-decade association with her alma mater.
Hughes died Thursday in Sarasota, Fla., where she lived for many years. She was 99.
One of Ohio University’s most ardent supporters, Hughes earned a bachelor’s degree in education in 1930. Through the years, the university recognized her with many of its most distinguished honors: an honorary doctor of humanity degree, an Ohio University Alumni Association Medal of Merit and an Alumna of the Year Award, and an Ohio University Foundation John C. Baker Founder’s Award.
In 2004, Hughes was one of 14 individuals singled out in the university’s bicentennial year to receive a Founders Citation, awarded by the Board of Trustees to individuals who have demonstrated exceptional dedication to Ohio University.
Two years later, Women in Philanthropy of Ohio University established the Leona Hughes Inspiration to recognize individuals who demonstrate dedication, loyalty and perseverance in their lives and in their support of the university. Hughes was the award’s first recipient in November 2006.
Hughes supported the university in myriad ways, most notably by establishing four Leona and Lewis Hughes Manasseh Cutler Scholarships and four tuition scholarships to Ohio University students from Oak Hill.
Bob Axline, a 1957 graduate, met Hughes years ago through their work with the Ohio University Alumni Association. She became one of the family, spending holidays with Axline and his wife, Jean, and visiting their Cape Cod home at least once a year.
“Some people who give do so blindly. Not Leona,” Axline told Ohio Today magazine in 2003. “She supports the causes she believes in and she gives her time and her interest.”
Indeed. Hughes served 15 years on the Ohio University Alumni Association board, including 11 as secretary. When she stepped down, board members presented her with a pair of tennis shoes to symbolize her tireless spirit and dedication. “Air Leonas,” they said.
A month after her term with the alumni association ended, she “graduated” (her word) to The Ohio University Foundation Board of Directors. She completed a nine-year stint with the foundation in 2001 with a perfect attendance record, having traveled from Sarasota to Athens for three meetings a year. She was active in the university’s Bicentennial Campaign and for more than 30 years hosted a holiday luncheon for the alumni association’s Suncoast Chapter. She also was an active member and supporter of the university’s Phi Mu sorority chapter.
“There have been a lot of emotional things that keep me coming back to Ohio University,” Hughes said in 2002.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete. Outlook will share additional information as it becomes available.