Fritz Hughes has retired before.
In 1999, he stepped down as principal of Sunnyside Elementary School following more than 30 years of work in Washington schools. Less than two months later, he'd found a second career as executive director of the Pullman Chamber of Commerce.
This time around, Hughes insists he's ready to slow down. The 66-year-old will retire from his chamber position June 30 after nine years of welcoming visitors and potential residents to Pullman.
"I have no big plans to go to the moon or invent anything in retirement. It's just time to go," he said with a smile. "Then again, I didn't have any big plans to come to the chamber when I left the school system."
Hughes and his wife, Mary, moved to Pullman from Spokane in 1976, when he accepted a position as principal at Pullman's Edison Elementary School, which no longer exists. The Washington State University graduate went on to serve as principal at Franklin Elementary School before moving to Sunnyside.
He then was recruited for the chamber position.
Hughes said he considered the option, noting that his time as a school administrator gave him a leadership background, knowledge of fiscal matters and established relationships with people throughout the Pullman community.
"I figured I would just be working with taller people instead of the little short ones (kids), so I thought I would be up for the challenge," he said, chuckling.
The first event Hughes helped organize as chamber director was the national Lentil Festival. He jokes that his experience organizing elementary school carnivals helped to prepare him for the festival - which in 1999 featured the several-hundred gallon vat of chili for the first time.
"It was a new adventure," he said. "It was wonderful."
Hughes said he is proud of what the festival has become. Last year, it attracted about 24,000 visitors and 90 vendors.
"It's gone from a lentil festival to a national lentil festival," he said.
In his nearly 10 years with the chamber, Hughes said his major accomplishments include the chamber's involved board of directors and strong membership of more than 400 local businesses. The chamber - which once had to take out loans to pay its employees - now has a fiscally sound bankbook, owns its Grand Avenue office building and is more involved than ever with activity in Olympia that may affect business in Pullman.
Hughes said relations between the chamber and Pullman, Whitman County and Washington State University also have improved.
"Now I think we all have a common goal and direction," he said. "I think we're looking for good, planned growth in the community. We're trying to make this a better community ... I think I'm walking away at a time when things are going very well with the chamber."
Pullman Mayor Glenn Johnson said Hughes has done wonders with what was once a struggling chamber of commerce. Johnson applauds Hughes' efforts to attract new retail businesses to the area and create a strong community.
"We have a great product in Pullman and ... he's joined us in selling that," he said.
"Fritz is just a great ambassador for this community," Johnson added. "I know he wants to step down - and he certainly deserves to - but I think we'd all like to see him around for years to come. We're so grateful to have him."
Hughes looks forward to spending more time with his wife, who retired last year from the Pullman School District. He'll also get in a little traveling and plans to visit with his two grown sons and grandchild more often. He may even learn to fly fish.
One thing is for sure: Hughes plans to remain involved in the community, through his roles in local organizations such as the Pullman Education Foundation Board.
Hughes also sat on the Washington State Chamber of Commerce Executives for six years until he became president for the year 2006. In 2007, he was honored into the United Way of Pullman Red Feather Society for his dedication to the community.
"I love the community and would not leave," he said. "I think it's very important to stay involved in the community. It keeps you young. It keeps you motivated to do things."
Johnson joked that Hughes will find a third career.
"He will retire for a few months and then he will get very bored and want to get active again and we'll find a place for him," he said.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
"Fritz Hughes ready to leave second career behind; Pullman Chamber executive director to retire June 30"
Fritz, my friend, you will be deeply missed on the Chamber. From today's Moscow-Pullman Daily News: