She taught English at Marian High School, an IHM-sponsored institution in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for 34 years and retired in June as chairperson of the English Department. In the classroom, she infused her literature and writing classes with a sense of social justice and responsibility to do something to counter injustice. In reading and discussing The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, the young women discovered that hard work alone could not always overcome the disadvantages of place and class, that the playing field was not necessarily level. Students were encouraged to write letters to the newspaper in protest or support for a cause they believed in.
Former student Dr. Gabriella Civil told of her experience at Marian, “I felt keenly my difference as a young, black, displaced Detroiter from my predominantly white, upper-middle class, suburban classmates. How wonderful it was, then, to have Ms. Hughes take me under her wing. She encouraged and nurtured my love of literature and writing. She exposed me and other students to art, theater and opera…and took a group of us to the first-ever Marygrove African-American Writer in Residence reading, an event that transformed my life.” Dr. Civil now teaches English at the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Among her out-of-the-classroom activities were the formation of The Film Club and the Arts and Humanities Club. She also organized an annual student trip to the Stratford (Ontario) Festival of Shakespearean and Modern Drama. Kay also put together a Marian Alumnae Book Club.
Kay was a member of the committee that established the Royal Blue Classic, an annual golf outing benefit for the IHM Sisters. Since inception, the golf event has netted more than $400,000. She also works on fundraisers for breast cancer awareness, St. Patrick’s Senior Center in Midtown Detroit and Focus: HOPE. Kay goes beyond check writing and actually serves lunches at St. Pat’s and marches in the annual Focus: HOPE Walk as well as participating in many other causes.
“She is the epitome of the IHM Belief Statement, which she helped integrate into the Marian community,” says Marian colleague Barbara Jones. “We proudly posted Kay’s letter to the editor published in the Detroit Free Press, which supported the IHM order, protested against Catholic school closings in Detroit and spoke out against many unjust social and political issues.” Jones continues, citing many activities for students, “Kay is fostering self-motivation, flexibility and openness to change.”
After graduating from Marygrove, Kay honed her teaching skills and her emphasis on social justice in stints in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before coming to Marian High School in 1973.
Classmate Kathy Callahan recalls, “After being diagnosed with cancer, not once but twice, Kay’s determination and conviction that she ‘is here for a purpose’ not only led to healing but to many of these great accomplishments and a renewed dedication to her teaching and her students. Her illness helped her to see what is really important.”
Perhaps retirement will afford Kay more time for the cooking and entertaining she loves. She plans to spend a month in Italy and take a cooking class there. She describes her family including Grandma, Mom, her sisters and brothers as being great cooks and a bit competitive. Since sister Eileen is a professional chef, she usually wins all the “contests,” says Kay.