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Brayden Dunbar, age 17 and with the Keller Chapter of YMSL, interviewed Virgil Hughes, age 97 and a Whitley Place resident.

By Brayden Dunbar, Keller Chapter of Young Men’s Service League

Each year the Keller Chapter of the Young Men’s Service League (YMSL) plans the “Ultimate Gift,” a large-scale, multi-faceted service project that spans the entirety of the school year and focuses on doing something ‘big and meaningful’ for a philanthropy. This year the Ultimate Gift’s theme is “Gather the Generations," and is focusing its efforts helping Whitley Place, an assisted living and adult senior living center in Keller, with various projects. One of the most meaningful activities is the creation of story boxes for each resident. Essentially the young men in YMSL, together with their moms, are building shadow boxes that will be displayed outside the residents' doors to depict the story of their amazing lives and the mark they leave on others. Recently, Brayden Dunbar, a member of YMSL, interviewed resident Virgil Hughes. Dunbar discovered that perhaps the greatest gift this holiday season is learning about the experiences from the older generation.

As I sat down with resident Virgil Hughes and learned his life story, it occurred to me during this holiday season that perhaps one of the greatest gifts is not the material things I will be receiving, but instead life lessons from Mr. Hughes. Even though there is an 80-year age gap between the two of us, we found common interests -- our love for the military and our families.

Mr. Hughes is 97 years old, and he is a life-long resident of North Texas. He was born in Ft. Worth and was the youngest of nine children. He has three-children of his own and in his lifetime has seen the invention of the toaster, jet engine, camera, printer, radio, tape recorder, computer, and ethernet and internet to name just a few. The last few are relevant because Mr. Hughes used those items when he served in the Navy and later worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. It’s truly amazing how many important items are invented in someone’s lifetime.

While in the Navy, Mr. Hughes was a Radioman 2 Class. He joined the Navy in 1943 and was assigned to the USS Tazewell. As a Radioman he specialized in communications technology and coordinating a large group of men off and on the ship.

After leaving the Navy in 1946, he went to work for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1947. He worked there for 42 years in different areas, but his most important role was bringing the Star-Telegram into the age of the computers. As the financial programmer, Mr. Hughes was completely responsible for integrating the financial and accounting systems into the controller’s office and keeping it up and running and up to date until the day he left. It is believed he is still the longest serving employee of the Star-Telegram today.

I feel fortunate to have interviewed him. Here’s what I learned.

Question: What was the happiest time of your life?

Anytime I am with my wife I am happy. I have been married to her for 20 years, and she makes me the happiest of all.

Question: What was the most challenging part of your life?

Thankfully, I have lived a great life and never experienced challenging times. Being so young and being in the Navy during WWII was not so easy, but thankfully in my role I did not see a lot of first-hand fighting and bloodshed.

Question: What are some of the most important life lessons you learned during your lifetime?

My mom was one of the best and sweetest moms ever, and she always told me to be nice to others (especially the ladies), and they will always be nice to you. I find that when everyone is nice, we can all get along so much better.

Question: Do you have any special Christmas traditions or wishes for the season?

I came from a big family, and just being together at Christmastime and enjoying great food together was made more special because of my mom. I just wish everyone a very enjoyable Christmas making memories together.

Question: What would you like young men like me to know?

Do what you love and be with the people you love.

About YMSL: YMSL represents over 10,000 moms and 11,000 young men as part of more than 100 chapters across 16 states. One hundred YMSL chapters combined has resulted in more than 400,000 service hours performed this year. www.YMSL.org