Norma Hughson prefers the back-stage of volunteerism

Norma Hughson, right, doles out barbecued vittles at the Sheguiandah Fall Fair where she spends many volunteer hours. Expositor file photo

SHEGUIANDAH – Norma Hughson is a volunteer who prefers to help make things happen behind the scenes and celebrate the power of working together as a team to accomplish great things, but after much persuasion The Expositor convinced her to share her life’s wisdom with the next generation of volunteers.

“If you don’t have a good crew behind you, you can’t do any of it. You can’t do it solo; you need that crew and over the years I’ve had some really good ones,” said Ms. Hughson.

Her exposure to volunteerism began at an early age. Her father was on town council for many years and her mother helped out her neighbours regularly with any needs they might have had. In her youth, Ms. Hughson took part in 4-H and her mother was also a volunteer leader of that group.

“I wouldn’t take her classes because she was really hard on you if you were her kid,” said Ms. Hughson with a laugh.

She has kept her leader papers current and has stepped in to fill vacancies for 4-H events in recent years, though those days are starting to draw to a close.

Ms. Hughson’s career was a busy one—she worked as a registered practical nurse and a physiotherapy assistant in locations including the Wikwemikong Nursing Home, Manitoulin Health Centre and the Manitoulin Centennial Manor. With those busy work demands, in addition to raising a family of her own, giving back to the community was yet another component of an already full schedule. 

“I had a lot of support at home for things like housework,” said Ms. Hughson, again fulfilling her philosophy of giving credit to the many people behind the scenes who contribute to making any community efforts successful.

While working at the hospital, Ms. Hughson got involved with supporting seniors.

“We’d make arrangements to take them on things like picnics and rally the troops to get a crew who was willing to help out with it. We took chronic patients on tours like scenic boat cruises, and I’d volunteer to drive the Manor bus and take people where they wanted to go,” says Ms. Hughson. 

One particular memorable event she helped to host while working at the hospital was a Valentine’s Day party at the Northeast Town’s arena, an event dozens of people helped to organize featuring a special guest couple.

“Getting Charlie Farquharson (the popular character portrayed by Don Harron) and his wife Catherine McKinnon here was so much fun. The town worked with us for the arena rental and we had volunteers helping to drive people from the Manor to as far as Gore Bay,” says Ms. Hughson.

Readers may recognize Ms. Hughson’s name deep in the credits of events put on in the Northeast Town, especially those involving the Sheguiandah Centennial Museum. This is not her first foray into museum volunteerism—she has worked closely with Pat Costigan at the Mindemoya museum and was a member of its board. She has also been involved with the museum in South Baymouth.

Despite the years of volunteering, Ms. Hughson has never been involved formally with any service clubs, though her husband Lynn is a member of the Southeast Manitoulin Lions Club. Her own children have taken up the volunteering torch in their own way, helping out with political organizing and activities for their own children.

These days, Ms. Hughson gives most of her volunteer hours to the Manitoulin Genealogy Club which has hosted interactive workshops and compiled resources in recent years, such as the Manitoulin Roots webpage that helps to chronicle family history on Manitoulin Island.

She has of late been sewing a few masks to help out with the COVID-19 effort, regularly works to rally the Sheguiandah community for initiatives such as Harvest Glory Days and decorating the fish stand, and can often be found as one of the silent forces helping to get events off the ground.

“I’m always cruising around the back. A lot of times, people don’t realize I’m a part of things because I usually work way back in the background, and I’m quite happy there,” says Ms. Hughson.

As for those people who might be considering helping out their communities through volunteering their time, Ms. Hughson’s advice was simple: just do it.

“If you’ve got an idea, run with it. You just have to find somebody that’s willing to work with you on it and away you go. Challenges might come up but you’ll find ways to come through them,” she said.