Former Auburn Baptist pastor Gary Hughes is now Dr. Hughes
By Jim Turner

Posted on May 27, 2015 2:03 PM

When the Potter College graduates marched across the Diddle Arena floor for the Spring 2015 Commencement at Western Kentucky University, former Auburn Baptist Church pastor Gary Hughes was once againa part of the pomp and circumstance. He looked a little different, though.

As has been the case ever since 2002, Hughes wasn’t there as a graduate or to offer the invocation. Instead he marched as a member of the Department of Communication faculty.

Yet for the first time in a Spring Commencement, he was wearing different garb for the occasion. He marched in his new doctoral garb.

Meet Dr. Hughes!

Thirty-eight years after he graduated from Trigg County High School, 34 years after he graduated from Western with a degree in Speech Communication and a minor in Religious Studies, and 27 years after he earned a Master of Divinity degree from the Southern Theological Seminary, Gary Hughes graduated from the University of Kentucky last spring with a doctorate in communication.

He has come a long way from his early days of high school when he was shy and afraid to speak in public. One of Kentucky’s legendary speech coaches, the late Mary G. Rutherford, and an inspiring school bus driver named Ed Rogers helped him overcome those fears and transform himself into a competent competitive speaker.

Still when he left TCHS, he hadn’t committed to communication studies or public speaking. Instead, he began his collegiate career at the University of Louisville’s Speed Scientific School aiming toward a career in civil engineering.

A bigger calling brought that plan to a screeching halt, though.

“In May 1976, I had surrendered to the call of the ministry after a 14-month struggle,” he recalls. “After I got to Louisville, I knew that engineering was not what was in store for my life.”

He transferred to WKU after the fall semester. His focus was on the ministry and preparing to be a teacher in grades 7-12.

High school teaching didn’t happen. Instead two weeks after he married girlfriend Karen Cohron, he returned to higher education in Louisville. Instead of U of L, however, he enrolled in the seminary.

While there, he worked as a student pastor for a church between Campbellsburg and Carrolton for five years. After that, he was at First Baptist Church of Mayfield.

In 1993, Gary and Karen Hughes moved back to this area when he was named pastor of Auburn Baptist Church. Karen had grown up in Rochester, Mich., but her grandparents, Boyce and Ida Herndon, were from Auburn. He ministered to that congregation for nine and a half years.

The Hugheses reared their sons in the Auburn Baptist parsonage. The older son, Andrew, played basketball for the Logan County Cougars until his graduation in 2003. Younger son Nathan attended Auburn School until the family moved to Bowling Green before he started Greenwood High School. Both are now graduates of WKU, as are their parents.

In 2002, Department of Communication Head Sally Ray hired Gary Hughes to teach speech on The Hill. It was rare for a member of that department’s faculty not to hold a PhD or not be on a doctoral track. Western was growing so fast that changes in faculty requirements were needed. Hughes was one of those hired to teach with no plans for their being promoted.

Yet Gary Hughes has become an indispensable cog in the machine that makes that department succeed. Not only does he teach several speech classes each semester, but he is the department’s “computer guy.” Dr. Ray started him in that capacity “from Day 1” when he went on the WKU payroll, and the department heads who have followed her—Dr. Carl Kell, Dr. Dan Modaff, Dr. Larry Snyder, and Dr. Helen Sterk—have kept him there. He oversees countless information technology aspects of the department, including the complicated video recording and playback system for student speeches.

While all this was happened, Hughes was driving back and forth to Lexington for doctoral classes at UK. “I plugged away a class at a time for eight years. Only three of my courses were online,” he says. His doctoral dissertation dealt with the “use of mediated immediacy,” which involves how people are motivated to learn online.

He continues to do research after completed his doctorate. He and Kell have presented their findings on "The 'Nones' and 'Dones' in American Religion: A Rhetorical Inquiry." That project continues.

Karen Hughes, meanwhile, is still a part of Auburn. Although she already had one college degree, she went back to WKU to become a certified teacher after their sons were in school. She has taught at Auburn Elementary School since 2001.

Andrews and his wife Amanda live in Evansville, Ind. Their young daughters Elsie and Lola are now part of the Hughes family. Nathan works for Best Buy’s Geek Squad in Bowling Green, which fits in with his dad’s technology inclinations.

Dr. Hughes still is called to minister frequently. He occasionally fills in when a church is between pastors. He has been honored to officiate at countless funerals involving families who were part of Auburn Baptist during his ministry there. Last year he conducted a revival at Beechland Baptist Church and he has an appointment soon in Russellville.

Gary Hughes is a man of many callings. Now you can call him “Dr. Hughes.”

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