Maryville Employee and His Wife Foster Spirit of Giving
ST. LOUIS — With the holiday season in full gear, Jerry Hughey, assistant director of the physical plant at Maryville University, will delight children of University employees with his portrayal of Santa Claus. There is another group of children already aware of the generosity of Hughey and his wife, Cheryl. These children know what it’s like to be the beneficiaries of the Hugheys’ love and kindness. They are seven foster children who lived with the Hugheys at various times over a 10-year period.
Unable to conceive children naturally, Hughey and his wife decided to become foster parents. “We both had a desire to be parents,” Hughey of Ballwin said. “I’ve always been around kids and enjoy interacting with them, so it seemed only natural to have children of our own.” Hughey said coming from a broken home himself made him realize how important it was for children to have two parents. “Cheryl and I have been lucky to influence the lives of these seven children through the years,” said Hughey. “We have had kids ranging in age from 2 years to a 16-year-old pregnant young lady, all of whom had some kind of troubling issue. Every bit of the experience is difficult but also very rewarding.”
In 1996, Hughey and his wife decided they were ready to provide their love and support for a child on a permanent basis. “We dedicated a lot of time and love to the foster children, but in our hearts, we knew it was time to make a permanent decision,” said Hughey. Not wanting to adopt outside of the United States, they went to a local agency, Faith House, which cared for children who had been brought into the world in unfavorable conditions. It was here that they fell in love with 4-year-old Larenzo.
“Larenzo has no other relatives so we wanted to be able to provide a loving and safe environment for him,” said Hughey. It wasn’t until after the adoption process was complete that they realized Larenzo had many emotional and cognitive special needs. However, they stood by his side and worked with him through each obstacle. Hughey is proud to say that Larenzo, who will turn 16 in February, has come a long way since they adopted him 11 years ago.
Hughey enjoys spending as much time with Larenzo as he can. When Larenzo brought home a letter from school a few years ago inviting him to become a Boy Scout, he was eager to join. Recognizing the need to get him involved in activities, Hughey and his wife quickly agreed. Soon after, Larenzo signed up for Troop 724 at South View School in Sunset Hills. Though all the young men in the troop have special needs, they do the same activities as any Boy Scout troop. Almost a year and a half ago, Hughey himself was promoted to assistant scoutmaster for the troop.
“It is so rewarding to watch Larenzo grow and succeed,” said Hughey. “He has dreams of his own now, which is a big step from the life he came from. Right now, he wants to become the next owner of Tri-Star Auto here in Ballwin and after that, a baker,” Hughey said with a smile. Over the summer, Larenzo worked at Maryville on the paint crew to earn extra spending money.
Hughey said people ask him how he managed to deal with the pressures of being a foster parent. “I always tell them that it takes an extremely strong relationship with your spouse. Cheryl played a big role in the lives of the children, just as she does now with Larenzo. We are a team,” he said. Though they do not plan on caring for any more foster children, the Hugheys feel blessed to have had the experience. They believe it is important for children to have mentors in their lives.
“We both have the philosophy that whatever you put into life now, you will reap the benefits down the road,” said Hughey. One Sunday afternoon, he received a phone call from a teenage boy who had lived in their home for eight months. The boy was calling to say “thank you” for helping him and his younger brother and for allowing them to have so much fun in the time they lived there. “At that time,” said Hughey, “it made all the times we opened our hearts and our home worth it.”
Maryville University is a private institution offering approximately 50 undergraduate, seven master’s and two doctoral degree programs to 3,422 students. Ranked by U.S. News and World Report as one of America’s Best Colleges, Maryville University prepares its students for successful and meaningful careers. Among Maryville’s most recent graduates, 94 percent are employed or attending graduate school. Approximately 15,000 alumni work and live in the St. Louis region.