Former Beach Mayor Dan Hughes is a big reason why the Town of Fort Myers Beach and history on Estero Island has prospered throughout the years.
The former Beach mayor is known for having a heavy hand in the Town Comprehensive Plan and the Land Development Code as well as a recent sizable pledged donation to restoring the oldest structure on the island to its original state of historic value, but it is relatively unknown of his charitable contributions via Council salary to many of the Beach churches.
For all he has done over the years, Hughes was selected as Humanitarian of the Year for 2013 and was honored at the Fort Myers Beach Observer/Beach Bulletin "Best of the Beach" ceremony at the Island View Restaurant atop Lani Kai Beach Resort Tuesday.
Beach resident Dan Hughes is responsible for pledging a sizable donation to provide historical furnishings and other items required to recreate the Mound House 1909 Period Room in loving memory of his late wife, Ann (insetted photo). He was selected as 2013 Humanitarian of the Year and honored during a ceremony at Lani Kai recently.
"I am very honored. It was a surprise to even be considered for it, but I appreciate it," he said. "I love this community. The only thing that holds me back in life is my humility."
Last year, Hughes pledged to fully fund all costs associated with providing historical furnishings and other items required to recreate the Mound House 1909 Period Room. Expenses have jumped to more than $11,000 for that room's renovations. It is not completely finished as staging is still required in that room.
Hughes is a charter member of the non-profit Friends of the Mound House organization and has served as its treasurer since the group's inception. Within that scope, Hughes and the "Friends" have donated more than $30,000 to Mound House needs through fundraisers.
"The next project was to furnish the Period Room. I was in a financial position to do this," he said. "So, I offered to the Friends of the Mound House that I would pay for that. And, we informed the Town."
The only condition Hughes imposed was for a small, permanent plaque be placed in the room reciting that the furnishings have been contributed by him in loving memory of his late wife, Ann, who passed away in June 2011. Such a substantial donation is one proud moment in Hughes' life.
"It makes me feel wonderful. My children have all supported it and think it's great," he said. "It not only is in loving memory of my wife of 56 years, but also helps to enhance the Mound House facility."
Many know Hughes served for two terms on the Beach Council. Not many know what he did with the money he received for doing that job. He disclosed (possible for the first time to an outsider) that he donated all of his Council salary during his six years to the seven churches that were on the island at the time.
"It's not actually the salary of a CEO of Procter & Gamble," he quipped. "It was at least something that I could give to the local churches."
The former Beach mayor of four years also made a financial contribution to the Town pool when it was being built.
Hughes is currently on two important advisory boards, being selected as an original member of the Audit Committee and elected to the recently formed Charter Review Commission.
But, it is his past contributions to the Town that have carried his legacy over the years. All of his Beach accolades have contributed to the "lifetime achievement award of sorts" selection.
The reserved, humble man was the first person appointed to the Beach's Local Planning Agency after Town incorporation. He served for two years before being appointed to a vacancy on Council when Councilman Ted Fitzsimmons resigned due to a rezoning decision that allowed Publix to become a supermarket at its current location. Hughes then had to run for Council a few months later when his seat term was over. After that successful run to public office, he was elected to a second term.
Hughes is known as the only Beach resident that has two signatures on the credits of the Town's most important code since he was on both LPA and Council during his service. He was also involved in assigning an ad-hoc committee that drafted the fertilizer ordinance, had input in codification of all ordinances in preparation of the municipal code and has been on the Aircraft Intrusion Relief committee.
"We spent six years on drafting the Land Development Code, chapter by chapter. I was on the Council when it was enacted," he said. "The ordinance for the last chapter (Chapter 34) was approved in January 2004."
Hughes' second Council term expired in April 2004, just months prior to Hurricane Charley.
"I lucked out," he said. "The next Council got the brunt of all that."
During his stint as Beach mayor from 2000 to 2004, Hughes was involved in obtaining historical property and a destination point for recreational cruisers.
"I was mayor when we actually consummated the acquisition of the Mound House and also valid in the acquisition of the Newton property and the mooring field," he said. "I had to go appear before (former Florida Governor) Jeb Bush and his cabinet to get approval on (the mooring field). That was an interesting experience to get a submerged land lease. We started a lot of projects that I am proud of."
Hughes said the Council's reason for acquiring Mound House had to do with its "historical and archaeological significance as a Calusa Indian mound and being "the oldest residence on the island."
"It's a beautiful piece of property," he said. "We received a grant to help with that purchase."
While on Council, Hughes helped in creating the Cultural & Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board, the current overseers of the Mound House and Newton Park. After his second term expired, he joined CELCAB for a couple of years.
"I got fired from that," he said with a laugh. "Well, I shouldn't say fired. I should say I didn't get reappointed (when new council cleaned house)."
The Hughes family is from a south suburb of Chicago and began coming to the Beach back in the 1970s. They stayed at the Outrigger Beach Resort back then, then bought a condo at Smuggler's Cove in 1987 where Dan resides.
"We still kept our home in Illinois into the 1990s, although we spent most of the year here since 1988," he said.
After time in Harvey, Illinois, the Hughes moved to Flossmoor where Dan was a city attorney for roughly 30 years after being a bank president. He was also a member of the library board and school board. He has been involved in construction and owns a golf course/sub-division property in St. Lucia.
Hughes has three children: a daughter in Cape Coral; a son (FWC officer) in Big Pine Key; and another son who is carrying on the law firm in Flossmoor.
Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda has high regard for Hughes. She stated that if she is ever troubled about anything, she goes to him because of a complete trust factor.
"I am unsure if there is a single person that has done more for the Beach," she said. "Other than serving on the first LPA, being a council member and mayor of the town, he know the comp plan and the land development code backwards and forwards because he wrote it along with others.
"But, it was his guiding force. He is the proverbial elder statesman of Fort Myers Beach. He is rock solid. There is no questioning his integrity or who he is. They broke the mold with Dan Hughes."