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Democrat Photo by Nathan Mayberg

ATTENDING SATURDAY'S FESTIVITIES were, front row from the left, Hughs’ great-granddaughter Grace Bertolino, wife Eleanor Hughs, daughter Renee Somers, granddaughter Angelique Paes and great grandson-Danny Paes. Back row: daughter Gwynne Blum and granddaughter Alberta Bertolino.

Arnold Packer Hughs
Gets Ultimate Honor

By Nathan Mayberg
MONTICELLO — March 21, 2006 – Arnold Packer Hughs would be proud.
That should have been obvious to all of the hundreds of people in the capacity crowd which attended the musical performances at Monticello High School to dedicate the auditorium in his name on Saturday.
The music teacher who taught at Monticello for three decades was immortalized with performances from the high school wind symphony/concert band, high school women’s chorus, sixth grade chorus and Cornelius Duggan Elementary Dedication Choir and skits from “The Music Man,” which Hughs had directed several times.
His wife, two daughters, granddaughters and great-grandson were all in attendance for the unveiling of a plaque in his honor.
Monticello Board of Education Vice President Robert Rosengard led the ceremonies, as it was his idea to name the auditorium after Hughs. He called Hughs “a true renaissance man.”
Rosengard played the lead role of Harold Hill in “The Music Man” under Hughs years earlier. “The Music Man” was the first play Hughs directed and his last.
Former Superintendent Robert Kaiser and Board of Education President Jim Culligan were recognized by Rosengard to loud applause. Kaiser flew in from Arizona for the occasion.
Kaiser entered Monticello High School as a math teacher in 1950, one year after Hughs.
“I always thought the music program was so important to the school system,” Kaiser said. “I did all I could to support and expand it. So did the board and the community. He did a great job. He loved kids and motivated them which was most important. Kids liked him and did their best.”
Many fond memories of Hughs were relayed by former students, fellow music instructors and his family.
Steve Rovitz, who succeeded Hughs as high school band director, recalled a teacher who never stopped working. He said that Hughs held his students to extremely high standards. He was “his own hardest taskmaster.” But he also had a big heart, said Rovitz.
Rovitz remembered Hughs conducting the theatre orchestra in a “fantastic outfit.” While instructing the band, he wore a headset to give directions to the stage crew and had a camera to take pictures of the show at the same time.
Hughs also produced his own silk-screens, which he used to create posters and programs for his musical performances.
“He was fearless,” said Rovitz.
On Rovitz’s first day of work, he played the trumpet during a lesson for a couple of his students, adjacent to the Hughs’ office. Hughs told him to never play the trumpet in front of his students again. He had a point, said Rovitz.
“I didn’t play the trumpet. I was a saxophone player,” Rovitz said.
“He was like a father to me,” said the now retired and admired music teacher. Rosengard told Rovitz that Hughs “would be as proud of you as any of his children.”
Board of Education member Richard Feller, a former music student of Hughs, remembered the teacher’s successful use of cannon replicas for a performance of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s classic 1812 Overture.
Eleanor Hughs remembered her husband’s first experiment with cannons in an earlier performance of the work. A student brought a cardboard cannon to school and caused a large explosion in the auditorium of the old high school on St. John Street.
Eleanor gave a detailed account of the music man. He was born in Binghamton and moved around due to his parents divorcing. For a brief time, he lived in Hortonville.
Arnold and Eleanor both eventually made their way to Worcester. In 1942, she first laid eyes on him when he walked into her Latin class at age 15. Almost instantly, she fell in love with him and his red hair.
He was a talented musician at a young age. Before he even entered high school, Hughs was the organist at a local church. At 15, he was playing the trumpet. By his junior year, “Red” was selected for the All State Orchestra.
He became an Eagle Scout and by age 16 graduated high school. He attended SUNY Fredonia, well known for its music program, while Eleanor went to the Teacher’s College at Oneonta. He eventually earned his master’s degree in music from Columbia University and SUNY Albany.
Then, at 17, in the midst of World War II, Hughs entered the United States Navy. Although he never saw combat, he traveled to the islands along the Pacific Ocean, where the U.S. fought the Japanese.
He would play in a band for the soldiers in Guam, Midway Island and elsewhere. He also played the organ at the religious services for Catholics, Jews and Protestants. His cousin was tragically killed while fighting in the battles along the Pacific Ocean.
Upon returning home, he was signed by former Monticello Central School District Superintendent Kenneth L. Rutherford to teach music. Eleanor found a job teaching in the Minisink Valley School District.
Hughs made sure his children learned how to play. Daughters Renee Somers and Gwynne Blum recalled how their father taught them about the importance of breathing when singing and how to play the oboe. In addition, they were important employees of his instrument repair business. Hughs repaired nearly every instrument for his band.
At Grossingers Hotel, Red played with some of the most talented musicians in the prestigious show band. He played in front of all the stars, celebrities and well-to do who attended the resort for many years.
Hughs and his wife retired to Ocala, Fla. Arnold Hughs died January 25, 2003 at the age of 75 following an infection from open heart surgery. Both of his sons predeceased him.
Eleanor Hughs said she “thoroughly enjoyed” the performances Saturday afternoon.
“They are in good hands. They followed in his tradition,” she said.
The Duggan school’s performance of “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” and “Dare to Dream” were clear standouts which brought the audience to absolute jubilation. The high school band’s performance of highlights from the “Wizard of Oz,” was also well received.
Two Class of ‘81 graduates, Peter Tango, of Maryland and Brian O’Donohue of Wurtsboro, were among the countless attendees who parked their cars in every which way around the school to be at the dedication.
Tango was a student of Hughs from seventh grade through 12th grade performing in different musicals, including “Damn Yankees,” “Flower Drum Songs,” “Brigadoon” and “South Pacific.”
He said he made the drive of five hours to be at the performances because he respected the professionalism of the director.
“He made sure we didn’t make a fool of ourselves. He made sure it was a top-shelf night.”
He also had equally fond memories of his former choral director, Martin Banner, who led him in the “Sound of Music.” Banner will be retiring at the end of this year.
O’ Donohue said that the lessons he learned from Hughs have guided him throughout his musical endeavors, which continue today.
“He made sure that we were as top-notch as you can be,” he said. “He was very disciplined. But sometimes he would smile and relieve the tension.”
“He used to say to us, ‘You’re not drummers, you’re just a bunch of bangers.’ He taught me musicianship and how to work with other musicians.”
That continues today in his Celtic rock band.
Rosengard and the school have begun raising money for a scholarship in Hughs’ memory.
So far, the district has collected more than $2,300. Those wishing to donate, may contact the business office at 794-7702.

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