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A Neligh man who spent the last year battling blood cancer was named “Employee of the Year” this week by the Nebraska Department of Roads.
Terry Hughes, who has worked for the NDOR since 2009, was left speechless Friday after opening the letter from the state. It capped a tumultuous year that included being diagnosed with multiple myeloma - a blood cancer - having a bone marrow transplant, many blood transfusions and now being in remission.
“Getting back to work was actually the best thing I ever could have done,” said Hughes, who was named the Maintenance Employee of the Year for Nebraska.
Hughes credits his work ethic and his wife, Dannette, for being able to overcome the disease and return to work about three months after his diagnosis.
“My wife is a big part of this,” he said. “She’s definitely kept me above water. I couldn’t have done this without her."
‘Newcomers To Neligh’
Although everyone in Neligh seems to know who Terry and Dannette Hughes are, they’re relatively new to the community. They’ve lived in Neligh for about nine years, having moved from Washington after visiting Dannette’s brother, Doug Dennis, who had recently moved with his family to Neligh.
“Once we visited, we loved it here. It’s the only town I’d ever visited in my whole life where everyone waved,” Hughes said. “We went back to visit Washington after we’d lived here. It’s a bigger city, and I caught myself waving at everybody. It’s an addicting little town. We like it here.”
Terry and Dannette Hughes have three grown children, including their daughter Michaela Potter who just moved to Neligh from Washington with her family (husband Ross and children Jordan, Dade and Cain) after leaving the Army.
Their son, Dennis, is in the Air Force and just returned to the states after being deployed to Japan. He and his wife will introduce their 4-month-old son, Wesson, to his grandparents on Monday. Their oldest daughter, Terra, still lives in Washington.
It’s been just over a year since Hughes was diagnosed with the blood disorder. It started with a nose bleed that just wouldn’t stop and led to doctor after doctor within days until he was admitted to the emergency room in Sioux Falls.
From an ENT to a retina specialist, doctors were looking at everything until it was clear - multiple myeloma - a cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell called a plasma cell.
Hughes then went to Omaha for blood transfusions, a bone marrow transplant and “everything.” But he couldn’t stay away from work. Hughes took about three months off and returned much weaker, but ready for work.
“The most important thing I did was busy myself again,” he said. “I recommend that to anybody who has cancer symptoms, chemo. The sooner the better that you get yourself off the couch and get yourself moving. It wasn’t easy, but I did it."
His superintendent, Tony Tschirren, said Hughes looked rough for a long time but never complained. He was there to work.
“He never complained about anything. The whole crew worked together to help him get through it,” Tschirren said. “It was great teamwork from everyone. The crew really pulled together."
Hughes is now in remission. Unfortunately, his numbers are rising. He’s still considered to be in remission, but doctors are watching him closely.
“They’re doing the pro-active thing with medicine and such,” he said. “We’re just taking this day by day.”
‘Employee of the Year'
Dannette Hughes said she knew about the award several days before her husband. When the letter arrived, she set it where she knew it would be found quickly.
“It surprised the heck out of me,” he said. “It definitely makes me feel pretty good. It’s very humbling and I do appreciate this."
Hughes said he didn’t know the award even existed, so he never expected to be recognized for his effort. His wife, however, said she wasn’t as surprised, considering his work ethic.
“He goes above and beyond,” Dannette said.
Gary Park, his supervisor, agreed, saying Hughes’ work ethic is one of his greatest traits.
“He’s very deserving of this award. There’s a reason the state puts this award out there - it’s for people like Terry who go above and beyond,” Park said. “He puts a lot of thought and effort into everything he does. We’re blessed in Neligh to have a great crew like we have.”
Hughes said he hopes his illness didn’t have a lot to do with the award, but he understands how his dedication to his job has impacted his life. Hughes said he appreciates all of the support he’s received during his illness and realizes it may not be over.
“I’m thankful to be alive, that’s for sure,” he said. “From my wife to friends, family and people at work, they’ve helped me so much.”