A new leader and a new generation

by Len Lear
Posted 6/12/24

At 30 years old, Jane Hughes recently became the youngest person to chair the Chestnut Hill Local board since its founding in 2016.

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A new leader and a new generation


At 30 years old, Jane Hughes recently became the youngest person to chair the Chestnut Hill Local board since its founding in 2016. Named to the position by a unanimous vote of board members, most of whom are decades older, Hughes is well aware of the generational shift she represents. She's taking on the role because she believes the paper is a critical part of the Chestnut Hill community that she, her parents and grandparents have long enjoyed.

"These days I get so repulsed by online news that seems built to stoke your emotions," Hughes said. "The thought of how many small papers like ours have closed is terrifying to me. To think of spending my adulthood without local journalism is unfathomable." And she thinks many of her peers feel the same way.

"I grew up with the computer in the basement, at a time when nothing on the internet was to be trusted," she explained. "Then, as a teenager, and into my 20s, that changed. Suddenly, everything was online. And look how that's turned out. Now, I think we're coming full circle, where once again we're all questioning the trustworthiness of the online world."

Hughes, who grew up in Flourtown and graduated from Mount St. Joseph High School before attending Fordham University in New York, has a long family history in the community. Her paternal grandfather, Dr. Eugene Hughes, grew up on Ardleigh Street and became chief of surgery at Chestnut Hill Hospital. Her maternal grandfather, who grew up on Roanoke Street, started as a caddy at the Philadelphia Cricket Club and eventually became general manager. Both of her parents went to OMC parish school, where they met, and her cousins all got married in that church.

"Both of my grandfathers were so involved in Chestnut Hill, one at the hospital and one at the Cricket Club – they pretty much knew everybody," she said. One of her grandmothers – also named Jane – took on a leadership role as president of the La Salle mother's club. 

Now Jane is following in their footsteps.

"We were all thrilled when Jane accepted the presidency because she's a natural leader," said fellow board member Donna Shaw, a journalism professor emerita at The College of New Jersey. "From the first time I met her, I was bowled over by her energy, enthusiasm and positive attitude."

"Jane took on a difficult task, and she did it all with equanimity and a smile on her face," said Richard Stein, interim publisher of the Local, referring to the challenge of keeping small newspapers going given current industry trends. "She has a gentle way of seeing that things get done, and she does get them done.”

Hughes is currently a director of community investment for the Fort Washington mortgage company Newrez, where she was recently named a "40 Under 40" award winner. She's held various other corporate jobs in fundraising and marketing and was a specialist with AmeriCorps, where she focused on community engagement for the urban planning department in Indianapolis.

She is the youngest of two, and her father was the youngest of eight boys, so when she was young her grandparents were old enough that her memories of them are somewhat distant. But she clearly remembers seeing the Local every time she visited.

"It was just always there, sitting right on the coffee table, next to the ashtray and cup of coffee," she said. "I don't remember any of the stories in it. I just remember that it was always there – a part of our world."

It was during her years at Fordham, while living in New York's Upper West Side, that Hughes realized how much she values small and close-knit communities, like the one she has here in Chestnut Hill. 

"It's funny. Living there is what made me realize that my end goal was really to come back home – which is something I never thought I would say," she said. "I found myself making my own small community out of the people I met and became close to – the bartender at the local spot, some people at the gym, and the person who ran the coffee shop."

When Covid forced her to leave New York, she said, she was "so upset to lose those ties with that little community I'd made. But then I got to Chestnut Hill and found the same thing here. I realize that having that community already built in is really what makes Chestnut Hill so special."

Hughes now lives in the East Abington Street rowhouse that her mother grew up in. She and her father renovated it during the Covid lockdown years, with some help from her Mom and boyfriend Eric Shelton.

"It hadn't been touched since the 70s, so think shag rugs and the analog clock on the stove," she said. "That was pre-vaccine when you couldn't do much else, so that's pretty much all we did."

Hughes' athletic accomplishments are also noteworthy. She began running during the pandemic when the gyms closed and loved the solitude of running in the Wissahickon. As a result, she eventually completed two ultra-marathons, each one 50 kilometers, the equivalent of more than 31 miles. And she has run in the Philadelphia Marathon.

"I run anywhere from 25-40 miles a week and strength-train to prepare," she said. "They are mental challenges just as much as physical, but I see them as great excuses to spend the whole day outside enjoying the woods, one of my favorite places to be. Next up: Grand Canyon 'Rim to Rim' challenge and Havasu Falls, just outside Grand Canyon National Park."

Jane Hughes can be reached at board@CHL.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com