Gary William Hughes
Gary William Hughes, 74, of Branson, died Sunday, June 8, at his home following a long battle with cancer. “Papa” Hughes, as he was affectionately known, was born March 11, 1940, in Hawthorne,, to Arden and Ethel (Tobler) Hughes. He grew up loving sports, music and nature, especially running barefoot on the hot desert sand.
During his years at Mineral High School, he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. He continued to be a softball pitcher for community and church leagues throughout the rest of his life and coached youth baseball teams. He was also an expert horseshoe pitcher, winning several state and national tournaments. Gary was an alumni of the Mineral County High School class of 1958.
“Dad loved a good competition,” son Jason Hughes said. “He could make a competition out of anything.”
“When we worked together it made the time go quickly and we got a lot more done.”
In addition to his love of sports, Hughes also had a love of music, learning to play piano, accordion, and guitar by ear. He joined his father’s dance band at a young age. Blessed with a bass voice, Hughes was invited to sing and travel with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for many prestigious events, including a presidential inauguration.
After serving in the National Guard five years, he served a two-year church mission to the eastern states. It was there he developed a lifetime love of missionary work.
Hughes met another lifelong love, Lena Kristina Nilsson, shortly after graduating from Salt Lake Community College in Barbering, Utah. They were married on Aug. 12, 1966, in the Salt Lake Temple and settled down in Taylorsville, where together they raised five sons: Andy; Jason; Marty; Adam; and Ryan.
He supported the family by working several years as an independent milkman and eventually owning his own Hi-Land Dairy franchise. For 19 years, he also owned and operated a decorative concrete fence construction business called Artistic Fence Design, a business where his sons all got a chance to learn about hard physical labor.
During this time, Gary and Lena Hughes combined their musical talents with that of their sons and enjoyed doing music shows for church and community events, but it wasn’t long before they stepped aside and the “Hughes Brothers Show” was officially formed in 1983.
After many years of touring the country, they signed a contract to bring the Hughes Brothers to Silver Dollar City in 1994. This is when they decided to sell their home and walk away from the lucrative fence business to help their sons in their new career opportunity. After spending the 1995 season at Silver Dollar City, the brothers performed at several other theaters in the area.
After only five years performing in Branson, they purchased the former Roy Clark Celebrity Theatre, now renamed the Hughes Brothers Theatre.
“Dad was always the ‘Leader of the Band’ and he started ‘it’ all,” son Marty Hughes said. “But the thing I will always remember most is that Dad gave me his time, and he wanted me there to experience what he loved most.”
Aside from being a co-owner and operator of the theater, Hughes ran sound for many years and became well known for Papa Hughes’ Fudge, and landed the starring role of Santa Claus in the “Hughes Brothers Christmas Show,” which his illness only caused him to miss two seasons.
“If you were going to associate one word with Dad, it would be ‘faith,’” said daughter-in-law Maria Hughes. “Just look at the journey he took to get us where we are today.”
His son Andy added, “Our dad served us and lived what he believed. We’re all grateful for his example in our lives.”
After their five sons were grown and had families of their own, the total number nearing 50 children and grandchildren, Gary and Lena Hughes adopted four children from Smolensk, Russia, between the ages of 9 and 13. This gave them the opportunity of raising a second family.
“Gary was a loving and devoted husband and father,” Lena Hughes said. “He served faithfully as the patriarch of our large family and we were all influenced, for the better, by his passion for life, sports, music, business, gardening, and especially the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Even in the last couple of months, as he was laid up at home in hospice care, his faith never wavered; he rarely complained and never lost his sense of humor.”
Funeral services were held June 17, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Branson West. Burial will followed the service at Evergreen Cemetery.