An earlier version of this story misspelled the last name of Jeff Conn.
Funeral home visitations usually aren’t punctuated by frequent laughter, but the Nov. 10 gathering to honor the memory of Troy Dale Hughes was.
And that’s the way his family wanted it. “Tell one of your favorite stories about Troy to someone else to make them laugh,” they urged friends, “because that is what he loved to do — make everyone laugh.”
Troy died Nov. 3 at the relatively young age of 60. But he packed an extraordinary variety of activities and accomplishments into his allotted years.
He was easy to spot in a crowd, with a head of fiery red hair and, as an adult, a beard to match. But early on, that worked against him.
“He was probably picked on and bullied more than the average kid at school, because of the red hair,” recalls Jeff Conn, who buddied up with Troy in 5th grade at Horace Mann Elementary and continued the friendship through Cherokee Junior High and Kickapoo High School (Class of 1980).
“But he was very smart,” says Conn, adding a confession: “My freshman year at Kickapoo, I wouldn’t have passed history class if it hadn’t been for Troy sitting in front of me, helping me with answers.”
As an upperclassman at Kickapoo, Troy excelled on the debate team, specializing in the humorous interpretation category — a harbinger of the passion he developed later for performing standup comedy in local clubs, at professional conferences, even on a cruise ship.
His job resume included running a Vickers gas station at Campbell Avenue and Walnut Lawn, working as a flower salesman, driving a bread delivery truck and a school bus, selling real estate and turning his cooking skills into a catering business.
For several seasons he helped his parents, Larry and the late Ann Marie Hughes, peddle freshly roasted peanuts at craft fairs throughout the region. It provided a special reward because it allowed Troy to incorporate his then-young son, Logan, into the operation by teaching the lad to perform magic tricks with cards, scarves and other simple props to attract spectators long enough for the aroma of hot peanuts to arouse appetites and spur sales.
Troy amped up the magic act by building a trick trunk in which Logan could seem to make people disappear. “At a show at school, I made my second-grade teacher disappear,” Logan recalls of a 1990s event at Greenwood Lab School. “Then I asked the crowd, ‘Do you want me to bring her back?’ Nobody said anything. So I just said, ‘Well, that’s the end of the show.’
‘I guess I got some of my dad’s comedy genes’
“That got a big laugh — so I guess I got some of my dad’s comedy genes.” In fact, Troy thought comedy actually was in his DNA because he was a distant cousin of late popular radio and TV jokester Red Skelton.
“I definitely knew all of Dad’s jokes,” Logan admits. “I’d say that they got old — as soon as he started one, I knew what punch line was coming — but they really didn’t get old because he liked to make people laugh, and I liked seeing that. All my friends absolutely loved him because he knew how to connect with anyone — younger, older, different walks of life, just anyone.”
Perhaps Troy’s most traditional business success came with establishing a sign shop called SignUs. He operated it in Springfield for several years, eventually recruiting boyhood pal Conn to set up a separate shop in Ozark that continues in operation today.
Apart from job endeavors, Troy devoted time to family, friends and charitable efforts.
Jeanann Barcom says her 35-year friendship with Troy was fueled by the facts that “he was very funny and he was very caring. He taught my son to play chess when my son was 7 years old.”
Logan remembers backyard barbecues that served as fundraisers for such organizations as One Sole Purpose, which provided shoes for needy youngsters.
“He was my Cub Scout den leader,” notes Logan, who lives in Kansas City where he is a certified public accountant. “He had a shop at his business, and he’d take us there to learn how to do handy things with tools.”
Troy helped the boys build small wooden cars for the Cubs’ annual citywide Pinewood Derby competition, melting and molding lead to strategically add weight to the imaginatively sculpted cars in order to make them roll down the inclined track faster.
Troy liked real automobiles, too, especially classic British sports cars. MG and Triumph models were among those that decorated his driveway.
But it was a sporty American roadster, a black 1956 Ford Thunderbird, that carried Troy on his boldest automotive adventure.
One of Troy’s closest friends, Mark Dziwanowski, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about 20 years ago, and doctors delivered a grim prognosis. “Mark’s last wish was to run The Great Race,” says Troy’s father, Larry, referring to the annual cross-continent rally for vintage vehicles.
Larry provided the T-Bird from his own garage, and Troy and Mark entered the 2004 event. The route that year stretched from Jacksonville, Fla., to Monterey, Calif.
“It was tough because Mark was very sick,” recounts Larry. “My wife and I followed the race in our motorhome. And when they’d stop for lunch, we’d bring him into the motorhome so he could relax in the air-conditioning. And then at night we’d get him to the hotel.”
Dziwanowski’s then-wife, Sherry (now Coker), says Mark also enjoyed performing comedy routines.
‘I’ve never seen two people have more fun than they did’
“He and Troy would go on comedy trips together. They would perform at these very unique small clubs — ‘dive bars’ might be a more accurate term. I’ve never seen two people have more fun than they did. They would find the most mundane life experiences and turn them into comedy.”
The pair helped finance their Great Race journey by selling “Team 2 Comics In a Car” T-shirts. They also collected donations for a fund to help fellow pancreatic cancer patients here.
“The friendship that Troy had with my husband — there is nothing deeper that anyone could ask for in life than to have a friend like Troy.”
Dziwanowski died in 2005 at age 48.
Another of Larry’s classic cars, a red 1964 Chevrolet Corvette, also figured into Troy’s activities. Father and son teamed up for a few years to provide Christmas gifts for underprivileged local youngsters, arriving at designated schools in the scarlet ’Vette, dressed as Santa Claus and a helper elf.
Troy arranged in advance to obtain gift wish lists from the children. “We would buy each one a gift that they said they wanted, within reason,” explains Larry. “It cost three, four, maybe five hundred dollars altogether each year — but that was insignificant compared to the joy that it brought to the kids.”
Troy applied his culinary skills a couple of years to prepare Thanksgiving turkey dinners, complete with all the traditional trimmings, for some kindergarten classes.
“Troy was a typical middle child, always trying to please people,” says his older sister, Tammy Holley, a long-time school nurse in Springfield who now is the coordinator for health services for the entire R-12 system. (Their younger brother, Mark, died five years ago.)
‘He was definitely upbeat’
“Troy would give anybody anything he could if he thought that they needed it,” she says.
Tammy was a fan of Troy’s comedy, attending several of his shows. In 1998, when she was president of the Missouri Association of School Nurses, she had Troy perform at the organization’s annual statewide conference, held that year in Branson.
“Troy would make fun of himself over his red hair and freckles. He had a gift for taking something that a lot of people would be upset about and turning it into something to laugh about instead.”
Friend Jeff Conn agrees: “Troy was always very positive when communicating with people about their issues. He was definitely upbeat.
“And he was very, very giving — I mean VERY giving. You’ve heard it said that someone would give you the shirt off his back or his last dollar. Well, Troy was that guy. He truly was.”
‘All he ever wanted to do was to make people happy’
Troy’s father, who at age 83 still works as a real estate broker and auctioneer, puts it this way:
“Troy was the most social, fun-loving, absolutely compassionate person I ever met — and I’m not saying that because he was my son. Everyone says their son is a super guy, but I think everybody who knew Troy would tell you he really was a super guy.
“He was so much fun to be with. I wish I had more years with him. All he ever wanted to do was to make people happy.
“To make people laugh.”