Cover photo for Frances Hernandez Hughes's Obituary
Frances Hernandez Hughes Profile Photo
1917 Frances Hernandez Hughes 2023

Frances Hernandez Hughes

December 3, 1917 — December 31, 2023

Fort Pierce

Frances Hernandez Hughes

After a one-of-a kind life of devotion and service, God has called our beloved Frances Hernandez Hughes to his side. Frances’ life was entwined in two cultures, rooted in her faith, and marked by compassion and gratitude. She had an insatiable curiosity, loved talking to and learning about people, and touched so many lives.  

Frances (Maria Francisca Hernandez Peinado) was born in the city of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, a state capital known for its colonial architecture. She was nicknamed “Pachita” and received a degree in “Ciencia y Humanidades” from Colegio Hispano Mexicano. Adept at languages, she began a career as a trilingual secretary and interpreter (Spanish, English, French) for French-owned retail store “Casa Pons.” Here she met her future husband, Thomas Spearman Hughes, an American of Irish, Scottish, and English descent.

In 1953, she emigrated from Mexico to the United States as a new bride. She and her husband, a tool engineer, settled in Miami, spending weekends monitoring the groves they owned off Immokolee Road in Ft Pierce, Fl. or searching for shell fossils around the state.  Living on an orange grove was a culture shock for the self-proclaimed “city girl” who had been used to working and being surrounded by people! When Carmen reached school age, Mr. Hughes transferred to a job with Piper in Vero Beach, FL and the family moved to a property near St. Anastasia school so Carmen could enroll in St. Anastasia’s first elementary class. As with so many people, these new neighbors became life-long friends.

After her husband died unexpectedly in 1962, Frances raised the couple’s four children on her own. Monsignor Michael Beerhalter, pastor of St Anastasia Church, hired her as the first school secretary and allowed her to bring one-year old Ruth to work with her. She later would also serve as bookkeeper and Spanish teacher. She was employed at St. Anastasia Catholic School for over 11 years.

Another tragedy struck the family in 1968. A speeding car rammed the back of her parked station wagon with the four children inside. Ten-year old Tommy suffered a serious head injury and never regained full consciousness. He passed away shortly before his 18th birthday in 1975. The family visited Tommy every weekend, first at St. Mary’s hospital in West Palm and later at a care facility in Orlando. Frances never forgot the many people who supported her and the family during this difficult time.

Despite her own challenging situation, Frances kept an outward perspective and maintained an unwavering dedication to the community that supported her. She saw how difficult it was for Mexican/Hispanic families who began coming to the area in the 1970s and 1980s to learn the new language and navigate the culture. She said she felt it was her obligation to help, which she did eagerly.

In 1972 she was hired by the State of Florida to be the director of the Indian River Education Program in Fellsmere, Florida, (Fellsmere Migrant Child Center), the first public-private partnership to create a migrant preschool program. This required a daily 70-mile commute from her home. The program initially served 4-year-old students but, under Frances’ direction, began teaching older students and providing English language classes for parents and families in partnership with what was then Indian River Junior College. 

Because her prior studies had not been in the field of education, during these hectic years she also studied and obtained two AA degrees from Indian River Community College and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Florida Atlantic University. In 2006, at the age 89, she became a United States Citizen while keeping her cherished Mexican citizenship. Frances always taught her community that it was important to become part of their new home but to never forget where they came from.

While serving the migrant population in Fellsmere and Indian River County, Frances also recognized the need for this community to worship in their native tongue. At the time, St. Anastasia Parish provided a single Spanish Mass by Father Gerard Don Bosco Redden. Frances petitioned the bishop for a Hispanic church, gathering more than 490 signatures. In 1991, she began to coordinate fundraisers, sold food after Masses, hosted dances and Cinco de Mayo celebrations, Mexican heritage fairs and events, and before long had raised more than $80,000. These funds were used to purchase a piece of property off Delaware Avenue in Fort Pierce, just a stone’s throw from St. Anastasia Church, that would become San Juan Diego Hispanic Pastoral Center, a ministry that now serves thousands of faithful throughout St. Lucie County and beyond.

For Frances, it was important to help members of her community feel less isolated and to fulfill their needs. “Because I was one of the first Mexican families to arrive in St. Lucie County, I felt like I was the Central Services Office before there was one,” the centenarian joked in 2020. “I saw how many others struggled to acquire basic services, and I felt it would be selfish of me not to help when others need help.” 

It would take additional years of tireless fundraising to build the San Juan Diego Hispanic Pastoral Center. Frances’ caring personality and her legendary ability to spark a conversation with anyone, connected with so many members of the community and drew support from all directions. Along the way, Frances experienced setbacks that would have stopped others in their tracks, but not her.

Frances’ daughters inherited their love of education from their mother and all became well-respected Florida educators. They had children of their own, and fondly refer to her as “Mita,” a shortened version of Mamita (the diminutive of “mother” in Spanish). This endearing term is often given to Latina women, particularly those with whom others feel a sense of family. “Mita” Hughes was truly a matriarchal figure to many in the community. The nickname suited her perfectly and, when used at San Diego Hispanic Pastoral Center, everyone knows who it’s meant for.

Always humble, Frances initially wanted only a small family gathering to celebrate her 100th birthday, but so many others wanted to participate that the event grew and came to include attendees from Mexico and the United States who came to pray, honor and fete this incredible woman who meant so much to so many. In attendance were current and former pastors, students, former executive director of the Florida East Coast Technical Assistance Center and the former president of Indian River State College, who honored Hughes for her work in setting up the ESOL (English as a Second or Other Language) program at the college. Migrant families who had been the recipients of her generosity spoke of the woman who had helped them assimilate to their new home. One family shared a moment when Hughes gifted to them their first Thanksgiving dinner as a way of helping them learn and embrace the U.S. tradition of gratitude for many blessings. Frances was especially touched with the special Mass in her honor at San Diego Hispanic Pastoral Center.

In addition to her passion for serving people, she also had a passion for travel and adventure.  She wanted to explore every archeological ruin, every church, every off-the beaten-track place that sometimes landed her and her traveling companions in interesting circumstances because the world did not conform to her belief that “there should be a bus that leaves every 20 minutes.” She also had the best sense of humor that entertained us to the end.

To mark her 101st and 102nd birthdays, Frances and her family traveled to her beloved Mexico to climb the indigenous ruins of Oaxaca. Even though she used a walker to facilitate her mobility, it was hard to keep up with the tiny force of nature that was Mamita.

Mita loved the food, the history, the art, the dances, the dress and the tradition of her native country. She cherished her many siblings and nieces and nephews. She enjoyed meeting new people and forming new friendships, too. That’s just who she was. She would see someone on the street and just initiate a conversation, somehow seeing their need and finding a way to fill it. I guess that was her superpower, state her daughters. “It’s just who she was, and we are all the better for it.”

Frances received many awards over the years, including the Indian River State College Adjunct of the Year Award, WIRA Radio Outstanding Citizen Award, Community Service Award from the Ft. Police Department, IRSC Lifetime Service Award, and the Mexican-American Hispanic Heritage Award first recipient of the FASFEPA Power of One Award. Frances was also recognized by the St. Lucie County Board of Commissioners for her service to the community and on March 1, 2022 as being the oldest known resident of St Lucie County. On March 1, 2022, the St Lucie County Board of Commissioners recognized Frances as the oldest known resident of St Lucie County and honored her many years of faithful and dedicated service in St Lucie County.

What better way to honor her life of service than to follow her example. She strongly believed that it was important to give back to the community and country in which one lived. She recognized that serving others enriched both the receiver and the giver’s soul. She would say that is only reward she needed.

She is survived by her daughters: Carmen (Richard) Peterson and Alice Hughes (Jose) Blanco of Ft Pierce, FL and Ruth Hughes of Tampa, FL; step-children Patricia Hughes and Thomas Hughes Jr.; grandchildren, Meredith Peterson (Jake Vasbinder); Stephanie (Todd) West, Christina Blanco (Aaron) Jewett and Nicole Blanco (Tony) DiFrancesco , Christian Morris, Isabelle Morris, and Olivia Morris; greatgrandchildren, Christopher Ankiel, Kameron Schulz, Kendal Cunningham, Elijah Quinlin, Stetson DiFrancesco, Eliana DiFrancesco, Aaron Tyler Jewett, and Spearman Thomas Jewett; and countless nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Thomas Spearman Hughes, son Thomas (Tommy) Hughes and both parents, Juan and Hermelinda (Peinado) Hernandez and her brothers, Agustin, Sebastian, Constantino, Pedro, Victor; and her sisters: Lorenza, Carmen, Anita, and Petra.

In honor of Frances Hughes – individuals may choose to donate to the following institutions/funds:

St. Anastasia Catholic Church/St. Anastasia Catholic School, 407 South 33rd Street Fort Pierce, FL 34947. Attn: Capital Building Fund in Memory of Frances Hughes. A page is available on the St. Anastasia Catholic Church website for dedicated gifts in memory of Frances Hughes: In Memory of Frances Hughes or gifts may be sent through the mail at 407 S. 33rd Street, Fort Pierce, FL 34947.

Centro Pastoral San Juan Diego, 401 S 30th St, Fort Pierce, FL 34947. Attn: Gift in memory of Frances Hughes. Please send in check via mail to the church.

First United Methodist First UMC of Fort Pierce – Attention: Kathy Krueger Acts of Kindness Fund in Memory of Frances Hughes. Please send in check via mail to the church. The mailing address is 616 Orange Avenue, Fort Pierce, FL 34950.  

Visitation will be held on Thursday, January 25, 2024, from 5:00-7:00 PM at Haisley Funeral Home, 3015 Okeechobee, Rd, Fort Pierce, 34947.  A Funeral Mass will be held on Friday, January 26 at 10:00 AM at St Anastasia Catholic Church, 407 South 33rd Street Fort Pierce, FL 34947. Burial will follow at Riverview Memorial Park, 1109 S US 1, Ft Pierce, FL.

 

 

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Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation

Thursday, January 25, 2024

5:00 - 7:00 pm (Eastern time)

Haisley Funeral & Cremation Service

3015 Okeechobee Rd, Fort Pierce, FL 34947

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Funeral Service

Friday, January 26, 2024

10:00 - 11:00 am (Eastern time)

Saint Anastasia Catholic Church

407 S 33rd St, Fort Pierce, FL 34947

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