A Life Well Lived: 92-year-old Picayune thespian has more to do

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Gladys is now in her 90s and said “she’s not finished yet.” Photo submitted

Gladys is now in her 90s and said “she’s not finished yet.”
Photo submitted

For many people, events such as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and World War II live in history books, but for 92-year-old Picayune resident Gladys Hughes, they are memories and life experiences.
She was born and raised in Nebraska and remembers the Dust Bowl days, which occurred during the late 1930s.
“I remember sitting at the breakfast table and watching the tumbleweeds roll across the yard,” Hughes said. “It was dusty and dark. On the other hand, we also had very cold winters and experienced blizzards.”
She graduated from high school in 1941 and began college at a Lutheran school and then transferred to St. Olaf College in Minnesota, she said.
However, during Christmas break of her junior year, Hughes saw a sign that would veer her from the college path for a few years.
“I saw a sign with a girl that kind of looked me,” Hughes said. “On the sign, she was signing up with the Coast Guard SPARS. I was very patriotic and knew our country needed help. When a woman joins, she was letting a man go fight. I knew I needed to help in the war effort.”
That war was World War II and in December 1944, Hughes left home to attend boot camp in Brooklyn, New York. Her father hung a blue star in the home’s window, which indicated that a resident was in the service, Hughes said. A gold star meant someone had lost a family member in the war.
She was stationed in Manhattan and worked as a medic at a sick bay, which housed soldiers with general illnesses, Hughes said.
“I worked in the pneumonia ward,” Hughes said. “I was in charge of 17 patients most of the time. In those days, patients were given shots of penicillin every four hours. I had to learn nurse duties in a short period of time and worked three weeks of day shift and then three weeks of night shift. It was a rewarding experience and I met a lot of people.”
One of those people was her future husband, Hughie, who was in the Army. The two were married in August of 1945. On Aug. 6, 1945, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima and on the Aug. 9, they dropped a second bomb on Nagasaki, which meant the war was winding down, Hughes said.
“It also meant that Hughie wouldn’t have to go to Japan,” she said. “He was involved in the liberation of the concentration camp, a subject he didn’t talk much about.”
Hughes worked in a sick bay in Washington D.C. until the war ended. She also played basketball there and won a tournament.
After the war, Hughes went back to college and also gave birth to the couple’s two children, Chuck and Bonnie.
“I finally got my degree in communication, teaching, speech and drama from the University of Nebraska in 1952,” Hughes said. “I then got my masters in communication from Baylor.”
Hughes taught speech and drama for a total of 30 years in Waco, Texas and at East Jefferson High School in Metairie, Louisiana.
“I loved every minute of teaching and even got some nice awards for it,” she said.
In 1976, the couple bought a weekend home in Picayune in Hide-A-Way Lake.
“When I was a little girl, I always loved going to the lake and wanted to live by a lake,” Hughes said. “I finally got my cabin on the lake. We’ve had a lot of good times here at Hide-A-Way Lake.”
In 1985, the family retired and moved to Picayune for good.
Hughes’ entire career revolved around theater work and drama. Because of that, she found a spot for herself in Picayune on Stage, a local theater group.
“Mary Wagoner asked Hughie to be in a play, and there was a small part for a woman,” she said. “That was my first step. We put on ‘Our Town,’ which I directed and since then, I’ve been directing and acting some.”
To date, Hughes has directed 78 productions; she is currently directing number 79.
“I love to take a brand new play book and develop it into a production,” Hughes said. “It’s a wonderful feeling to create something for people to sit down and enjoy. The kids remember the things we’ve done and when they see me, they talk about how much they remember. It’s gratifying. It’s also a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun.”
In addition to theater work, Hughes is also involved with pageants.
Several years ago, Hughes participated in the Ms. Veteran America pageant and won second runner up.
“I was the only World War II veteran there,” she said. “They also asked me to be the Coast Guard judge. The main goal of the program is to help homeless women veterans. These women have been through a tremendous amount and it’s amazing what they can do.”
In 2003, Hughes was crowned Ms. Mississippi Senior America. She was judged in four categories including, talent, interview, formal wear and philosophy of life.
“The year I won I wrote about the kids’ theater here in Picayune and won $5,000 for Picayune on Stage’s children’s group,” Hughes said. “I didn’t win the title of Ms. Senior America. I was recently surprised with an honorary Ms. Senior America title for all the years I’ve worked with them.”
Hughes said she would continue directing for as long as the theater group wants. She is constantly reading plays and searching for good material, which for Hughes, includes light comedy and crazy fun.
She is hoping Picayune on Stage will secure a building soon, so the group can host larger children’s productions once again.
“I want my theater students to enjoy the experience and learn something new,” Hughes said. “They are better kids for having worked together and learned teamwork. Working with others is an important thing in their lives. I’ve enjoyed my life and it’s been a good one. I still have more to do. I’m not finished yet.”

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox