The heart of Bustleton

Bustleton Bengals president Kevin Hughes passed away suddenly last month, but his impact on the community will last forever.

Cornerstone of the community: Kevin Hughes, who served as president of the Bustleton Bengals since 2011 and has coached there since the 1990s, died suddenly on Sept. 14 after a short battle with lung cancer. His wife, Terry, holds a family photo in their Bustleton home as she shares stories of her husband’s love and passion for the Bengals organization. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

The Bustleton Bengals’ annual homecoming on Saturday had a shadow hanging over it. On paper, they had much to celebrate — the John Marynowitz Gymnasium in the Robert S. Hayes Memorial Park could be open in a matter of weeks, something the organization had been looking forward to for years. And on the football field, the name of Kevin Hughes, Bustleton Bengals president, was engraved on the scoreboard to signify the athletic field being named after him.

The homecoming took place a month after the sudden end of Hughes’ life. He passed away Sept. 14 after a short battle with lung cancer, which he had been diagnosed with just two weeks before.

But it wasn’t all sad. Hughes, 60, achieved what he wanted in life. He just bought a house down in Stone Harbor, where he and his wife Teresa would drive down every weekend. He also saw the groundbreaking of the gym, which he had dedicated a decade of his life toward spearheading. He attended the gym’s groundbreaking back in May.

“He wanted two things at the end of his life. He wanted that gym built, and he wanted to retire to that shore,” said Teresa (who goes by Terry) in their living room. A table in the back corner was stacked with food and gifts from well-wishing neighbors, so much they almost couldn’t keep track of it all.

“The gym was built and he got that house,” she said.

Remembering Kevin: Jackie Hughes arranges photos of her late father in their Bustleton home. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

Hughes served as president of the Bengals since 2011 after getting involved as a coach for his kids in the 1990s. His term as president is the longest in recent memory. He spearheaded the charge to create the gym for Bustleton, a process that faced endless obstacles and delays in the form of committees, city planning and more.

Councilman Brian O’Neill, who helped fund the majority of the gym, worked with Hughes on the task for years.

“[Bustleton] was the last place in my district that needed a gym and didn’t have one,” O’Neill said. “If Kevin weren’t Kevin, this project would not be happening. What he was doing was very difficult, and not something anyone else could even come close to accomplishing.”

It had also been his last hurrah. Hughes was planning to step down from his role as president after the gym was complete, despite some board members urging him not to. In 10 months, he was also planning to retire from his job at Philadelphia Gas Works as a dispatcher, where he had worked nights for 29 years and two months.

“We bought a house down at the shore four weeks before he died,” Terry said. “He got to spend four weekends down there. I’ve never seen such smiles on his face as they were those four weekends.”

Before his passing, Kevin Hughes accomplished two lifelong goals — he was able to see the groundbreaking of the Bustleton Bengals gym, a project that he had dedicated a decade of his life toward spearheading, and he recently bought a home in Stone Harbor. SOURCE: JACKIE HUGHES

President of Bustleton

Even though he’ll leave his mark on Bustleton, he didn’t live in the area his whole life. He grew up in Olney, where he attended St. Helena Elementary School and graduated Cardinal Dougherty High School in 1975. He worked at the no longer-existent Jacob Schmidt’s brewery in Northern Liberties and bounced around to different jobs before ending up at PGW.

He and Terry met shortly before her senior prom, where they went as dates. Terry said his sense of humor (specifically, his sarcasm) is what caught her attention. They married in 1979 and had three kids, Kevin Jr., Nick and Jackie.

The family moved to Bustleton in 1991 shortly after Kevin Jr. was born and have been in the same house ever since. A big “sports guy,” he got involved in the Bengals as soon as his oldest child was able to join, serving as a coach. This led to many years of Kevin coaching soccer, softball, baseball, hockey and basketball for the Bengals and his kids’ schools. (His family and friends joked that his basketball coaching skills weren’t quite up to speed with the other sports — one year he lost every single basketball game.)

When Nick decided he was more interested in musical instruments and theater, Kevin got involved in that as well. He traveled to other states with Father Judge’s band for competitions to support his son.

Kevin got back into sports when Jackie, his youngest, got involved. He demanded the best of Jackie when he coached her.

“It’s funny, when I told him I didn’t want to play soccer in high school, he didn’t talk to me for two weeks,” Jackie said with a laugh. When she wanted to run track instead of play softball, that warranted a month of silence.

Jackie said if she didn’t cry at a game, he wasn’t coaching the team. But, it taught her to “give 110 percent” in any practice or game, not only as a player but as a person.

“He was able to turn a lot of players around from maybe not being the best on the team and getting them to the place he needed them,” she said.

One year his team was the champion of a Beach Blast tournament, and his family and friends recalled driving down to the beach for five hours with the trophy, blasting “We Are the Champions” by Queen on repeat.

Even after Jackie was too old to play on the Bengals, Kevin continued to coach.

“I said Kevin, we don’t have any kids there anymore. And he said to me, ‘I’m doing it for me,’” Terry said.

Perhaps that mantra carried over to his dedication to opening the gym. After the project dragged on for years, it became obvious his kids would be too old to benefit. Maybe his grandchildren, Coulson and Brea, both 3, would grow up using it. Or maybe he was telling the truth — he just enjoyed being involved.

“I told Kevin I was done coaching, and he said, come on, me and you one more time,” said Glen Reed, Girls Athletic Director for the Bengals. Reed and Kevin had been friends since their kids went to BVM together, and Hughes convinced him to join the Bengals. They coached together for years. Hughes had convinced him to stay on for one more year.

The Legacy of Kevin Hughes

Terry recalled being in the car as Kevin drove along the Boulevard about to pass Bustleton right after he became president.

“He turned to me and said, look Terry, it’s all ours,” she said. “You’re the first lady of Bustleton.”

The title, however unofficial, was well-earned. At the board’s first meeting after his death, the members agreed to leave his seat vacant for the remainder of the year out of respect.

LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

To build the gym, the Bengals were tasked with raising 10 percent of the necessary funds, and O’Neill’s office would handle the rest. They had to raise an estimated $165,000, a figure that rose over time. The group hosted beef and beers, bingo, clothing drives, a brick engraving drive and more over six or seven years to raise funds.

“In 2010, we got serious,” said Vince Tarducci, gym director.

After deciding on a contractor from seven interviews, the organization ran into roadblocks such as negotiating where to put the gym with the Federal Aviation Administration on behalf of the Northeast Philadelphia Airport.

“Kevin realized there was a very good chance his kids would never play in the gym at all,” Tarducci said. “It didn’t matter. It would be for the community.”

The Bengals were the last community organization north of Cottman Avenue to get a gym. Having one means they won’t have to count on neighboring schools or the FOP to have basketball practice or host events.

“It’s all bittersweet,” said Christine McNicholas, who is in charge of fundraising for the Bengals. “It’s bittersweet the gym is named after [Marynowitz] and it’s bittersweet Kevin worked so hard on it and won’t see it.”

At his viewing, Terry was taken aback by the number of people who attended, which included people he had coached who had grown up and kids he was coaching this year wearing their uniforms.

LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

“I never knew how many lives he touched,” she said. “He was just my husband, their dad. You don’t really realize it’s really touching people’s lives, the things he did up there. It just impressed me so much that he was so nonchalant. He wasn’t overbearing about what he did — he just did it.”

The Saturday after he died, Terry remembered it was a gloomy day. She walked into the kitchen and noticed a ray of sunshine glimmering in the kitchen, and knew it was Kevin telling her it was OK. Then she went up to the gym.

“We were sitting on the bench up there and I was looking at the gym and I said, you know what, there are so many young people dying nowadays from drug overdose and cancer, and God needed a gym built in heaven,” she said. “And he knew the right person to get. He said I’ll get Kevin and he’ll build me this gym, and that’s OK. If that’s why we had to lose him, that’s OK.” ••

LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTOS