Ray Hughes, Running like a Silver Panther

This is one in a series about Silver Panthers, baby boomers who are returning to college after they retire. It is about the gusto you will find in these older students.



Ray Hughes sits at a table near the Taco Bell, eating his lunch and talking to the student with the fat calculus book. A 71 year old retired school teacher, Hughes is nevertheless interested in the student across from him, wondering what his life is like.

Like many silver Panthers on campus, Hughes is retired but returned to college to challenge his mind and to keep in touch with the youthful community. “Do they have goals,” he wonders, “What are they doing? I always strike up a conversation with whoever I sit with at lunch.”

You’d think he’d be tired of young people after almost 40 years of teaching history and economics, and with children and grandchildren of his own. Many seniors in this age cohort retire to leisurely lives of travel, occasional volunteering and family life. Ray Hughes is unusual in that he does all of the above and then some.

After retirement, he returned to Mt. SAC, took classes in art and ended up at Cal Poly Pomona with a second college degree. His senior project was a stained glass piece that expressed his passion for running.

Running? Did I mention that Ray has been an Olympic level runner? With an athletic scholarship at the University of Arizona, he stood in the ranks of world class runners. He has never stopped, even now running 5 miles each and every morning, regardless of the weather at Mt. Baldy. He coached track and cross country at the high school level and after retirement, he rejoined the cross country team at Mt. SAC. His times were no longer the records of his youth (which younger members of the Mt. SAC team could not match), but he did achieve a modest goal, “Try not to ever come in last!”

He’s run the Boston Marathon twice, is a lay counselor at his church, works with the homeless and in the food pantry. He recently married Patt Blair, an artist herself, but still finds himself curious about the world. So he is here at Chaffey, having completed 16 credits last semester and 7 credits this semester. “Because it was so much fun!”

Why only 7 units this semester? Well, Ray and his wife hoped to go on a cruise but the only way was to take online courses he could complete anywhere, on his laptop. Where will they cruise? They found a cruise to Alaska. And a trip to Chile. And, just for himself, Ray will travel with his backpack to Azerbaijan as well. Azerbaijan? South of Russia, near Iran?

“I wanna meet people,” he declares, “find out what it’s like out there, what their concerns are, what they had for breakfast!” He’s been to 54 different countries, often with a backpack and staying at hostels for the opportunity to talk to the locals.

Once, a high school student came up to Ray and asked him, “Do you ever take people with you?” He ended up taking the boy to Singapore with him but sadly, he died a few years later, attempting to leave a street gang.

Ray gets discouraged when he sees young people failing to take advantage of what he considers a wonderful opportunity for affordable education. He wonders why so many students register and then fail to complete their classes. “I see a lot of high school behavior and a wide range of commitment.” On the other hand he brightens, “Some are serious, like this student taking calculus.”

This semester, there are 676 boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964 or so) registered among the 19,400 students at Chaffey. This is a 15% drop from last year. Ray has been very careful in his travel planning to avoid becoming part of this statistic, by registering for online courses he can take on his travels. Like a great many boomers, he and his wife want travel to be part of their lifestyle but he’s determined never to lose his registration priority! And to keep his mind active, his horizons expanding.

His philosophy is one of openness and curiosity. “Life should be one continual pursuit of knowledge…you can’t ever learn enough.” He concludes, “I want a full life and when it’s done, no one should feel sorry. This guy took his life and ran with it!”

One of Ray’s art projects, “Curtain of Light,” and a number of his stained glass pieces can be viewed on You Tube: www.youtube.com/user/wolfgeek127.