Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Uncle Artie

Dr. Arthur Hughes
Fortunately, I had a chance a number of years ago to convey this story in person to Dr. Hughes. Indeed he was delighted by it and rewarded me with his customary and memorable hearty laugh.

I’m sure you all have experienced a recurring nightmare. You know, the kind that reveals your innermost fears and insecurities.

In my recurring nightmare, I arrive in a class and to my horror, I discover that there is an exam scheduled for that day and not only am I completely un-prepared for the exam, I realize that I didn’t even know there was going to BE a mid-term exam.

Unfortunately, my recurring nightmare is based upon a real incident; it actually happened. And, even though I still get cold sweats whenever the dream “reoccurs” – and it still does – I can safely inform you that this nightmare has a happy ending.

First, to dispel the mystery about the title of this offering. Many SFC folks may not know that Dr. Arthur J. Hughes also (occasionally) taught at St. Joseph’s College (for Women). My sister, Sigrid attended St. Joe’s and had taken a course with Dr. Hughes the year before my freshman year at SFC. Apparently, the “girls” of St. Joe’s thought Dr. Hughes was quite endearing and affectionately called him “Uncle Artie.”

My nightmare took place in the mid-term of the fall of my freshman year. I was taking the obligatory History 101 course and was thoroughly enjoying the class when the aforementioned event really happened. I still get chills recalling the fact that I had taken my seat in the middle of the room – no way to slip out without making a scene – and can still remember the command to “please remove all of the books from your desk…you will have the whole period to complete the mid-term…”
Resigned to the fact that I instantly knew I was going to fail the test and, quite possibly, the entire course, I took a deep breath and attempted to clear my head to at least remember my name. Within minutes I knew it was going to be a complete disaster, none of the questions stimulated any recall of anything. I briefly wondered if I was in the correct classroom. “When did we talk about this stuff?”

I went through the motions and after a few folks had finished and passed in their papers, I sheepishly turned in my test which quite noticeably had a lot of white space and left the room.

But something in the back of my head told me that I needed to seek out the good professor later in the day, throw myself on the ground in front of him and beg for mercy.

And that is exactly what I did.

The good news was, Dr. Arthur Hughes was not only an experienced veteran of the college classroom, and had no doubt met many a student in a similar circumstance, he was a true gentle man. With little fanfare he acknowledged that I had indeed “bombed-out” on the mid-term and that I could/would make up the poor grade by completing an extra credit assignment.

The clouds lifted. I would live to see another day.

When, many years later, I had the occasion to be teaching at the college level, and I encountered my own sad-sack of a student who had maneuvered himself into a similar circumstance, I thought about the humanity that that good man had shown me that day. I paid it forward.

I read today that, as part of a memorial tribute, Dr. Hughes is to be honored by being posthumously awarded with a special teaching medal named for him. I can think of no one better suited to be the recipient of the 2014 Dr. Arthur J. Hughes Award for Excellence in Teaching than Uncle Artie himself. May he rest in peace knowing that in additional to the hundreds, perhaps thousands of St. Francis College students who benefited from their time with him, equally as many other students have also, indirectly, benefited from his kindness and humanity.

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