“Be a loud mouth.”
Penny Hughes’s approach to leadership can perhaps best be summarized by a lesson she learned after returning to college and getting elected to student government at Indiana University South Bend: “a few people get things done and the rest follow suit, and you’ve got to be one of the ones to stand up there when the cause is right and get it done.”
As a teenager, Penny was influenced by the “real radical teachings” of Jesus saying, “don’t cast the first stone.” This philosophy continues to resonate in Penny’s life as she works to provide equal rights to all members of the community. Penny came to South Bend after marrying her husband, Jim. Soon after her arrival, Penny joined the local chapter of the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters to “meet people and learn more about politics.” Penny has been a member of the League of Women Voters and the National Organizational for Women for over 50 years.
Penny first put the lessons she learned about politics into work while in student government. Upon beginning her education, she realized that she, and other mothers attending classes, needed childcare. She successfully lobbied the chancellor to divert activity fees paid by graduate students to a daycare center fund. According to Penny, “we got our daycare. We raised $69,000.”
After earning her Bachelor’s degree in English, Penny taught at Penn High School. Despite her love of being in the classroom, she realized she “couldn’t afford to teach.” She “could work less and earn more by managing the rental properties” she and her husband owned. Her decision to leave teaching led to a lifetime of work as a real estate agent and owner/manager of as many as 50 rental units. As a woman working in the real estate industry in the 1960s and 1970s, Penny was regularly confronted with, and battled against, sexism. When a utility company demanded that all utilities be put in Penny’s husband’s name, even though she managed them and paid all the bills, Penny resisted and confronted the company. She successfully convinced them to put the utilities in her name. Penny currently serves as the program chair for the Real Estate Investors Club where she helps others become independent property owners like her.
Penny also has been an active proponent for protecting human rights through her work with the South Bend Human Rights Commission (HRC). During her time as president, Penny advocated for the HRC to include protections for the LGBTQ community. She adamantly pushed the commission to vote ‘yes’ by telling them, “we’re going to stand for this.” Penny was an active supporter of South Bend Equality’s fight to amend the city of South Bend’s Human Rights Ordinance to include protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Penny’s advice to young women reads like a summary of her life: “young women need to be willing to stand up when they see that they’re being discriminated against and call it what it is…they’ll be respected for it.”
Information compiled from oral history collected by The Michiana Women Leaders Project
Penny was a 2018 CMWL honoree