In Memory of Michael Hudgens

In Memoriam

Frank Van Nuys, Professor of History and Interim Head, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

The sudden passing of our colleague Dr. Michael Hudgens on Thanksgiving night last November caught us off-guard. For more than three decades, Michael had been a quiet but steady presence in the Humanities and Social Sciences department, teaching our philosophy courses as well as technical communications and various humanities offerings. While his many friends on the floor retired one after the other, Michael demonstrated no desire to leave a job he clearly loved, even at the age of 83.

What we all began to learn about Michael in the days leading up to his funeral left us amazed. He played jazz piano in nightclubs (C’mon!). He worked for the CIA in Algeria in the early 1960s (What? Really?). He directed TV shows in Houston (Huh?). As a newspaper reporter, he hung out with and interviewed Muhammad Ali during his trial for draft evasion (No way!). He was an avid HAM radio enthusiast (Cool!) The list goes on.

To honor Michael’s thirty-one years at South Dakota Mines, we offer this series of reminiscences by family, friends, colleagues, and students. For me, I recall fondly his reaching out to Janet and me not too long after our return to Rapid City and, later, his acceptance of invitations to have Thanksgiving with our family. He and Sue were early and avid encouragers of our daughter Maya’s academic and musical ambitions. Overall, Michael was synonymous with constancy in his teaching and devotion to lifelong learning. We will miss you on the third floor “cul-de-sac” and around campus. Be at peace, my friend.

Family

Susan Hudgens

For those of you at the School of Mines who knew my husband, Dr. Michael Hudgens, you probably also already know he is not only a learned man in terms of the subjects he taught, he also loved to learn.  He always thought the best of his students and believed they were “the best of the best.” He was very proud and honored to be part of the staff at the South Dakota School of Mines, and as his son noted in his eulogy, it was the perfect fit for him.  

As I go through his effects after his passing, I am struck again by the extent of his knowledge and research into so many various and different topics.  He certainly possessed an abundance of expertise and experience in Philosophy and Literature, Ethics, and Technical Communications related to the courses that he taught.  He never limited himself in the things that captured his interest.  In just the past year, he researched, watched videos and for a three-month period of time delved into the history, mechanisms, and the preparations needed by performers of pipe organs.  Before that, it was steam engines and before that the art and biography of Gaugin.  He was always willing to share the information he learned, and, in fact, I was often the happy recipient of information “I didn’t know that I didn’t know” (as he would say) of all that time and invested energy he brought to bear on a topic.  

Dr. Hudgens always said that he hoped that his writings would be part of his legacy.  Even more, he considered his students and the time spent in the classroom with them to be his most important life work. In his honor, it is my hope that each one of you follow his example and find some measure of fulfillment in the long and sometimes meandering path that leads to gems of knowledge, and in the process, feel richer for it.

Michael Hudgens in a rocking chair holding a tiny baby closely.
Michael Hudgens, grandfather

Michael Thomas Hudgens, Jr., transcript of eulogy for Dr. Hudgens

Michael T. Hudgens – In Loving Memory –

July 9, 1938 – November 25, 2021 

Service on December 9, 2021, Calvary Lutheran Church, Rapid City, South Dakota; eulogy by his son Michael Thomas Hudgens, Jr.

Good morning, everyone. [Removes black Covid mask.] Thank you for being here today. My Dad was an extraordinary person, yet he was also very private. I’ve learned so much more about him than I ever knew, in these past two weeks.

He was born in Texas in 1938, and he spent his early years in Houston, Texas, where he and his brother, Pat, would help their dad at his Conoco gas station—and that actually sparked a lifelong interest in cars on the part of my Dad. He loved his cars. 

A detail that still surprises me, and many of us, especially who knew him now, is that he was an excellent piano player in his early life, playing in clubs and bars in Houston, and we’re pretty sure he taught himself. And during this time, too, in his early teenage years, he taught himself Morse code and earned his first license as an amateur—or “ham”—radio operator, and that is something that had a continuity throughout his entire life. He maintained his licensure for the following 60 years, and in fact he just renewed his license in July of this year, and it expires in 2031. 

Black and white photo of Michael Hudgens holding headphones and standing next to a ham radio.
Michael Hudgens, ham radio operator

Although he devoted much of his life—especially the last half—to scholarship and education, he didn’t actually complete his undergraduate education at the University of Houston. Instead, at the age of 20, he began work as a television director, first at a station in Louisiana and then at KTRK-TV in Houston. This was still in the era of live, black-and-white TV that some of you might still remember. He directed dance shows and kids shows, but he also directed full-length plays that were broadcast on television in those days, like Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. His two eldest children, Patrick and Pamela, were born during this time. 

In his late 20s he applied to work as a reporter for the Houston Post and he … fibbed … a little bit about having completed his undergraduate education, but he was supremely confident of his qualifications, and of course he was hired. He worked at the Post for several years, writing headline stories but also book reviews and theater, film, and music reviews, and later he was the entertainment editor for the Post. He reported on many aspects of the civil rights movement in the late 1960s, and in doing that, he incurred the wrath of those who worked against civil rights during that time, and in fact we’re pretty certain that threats were made on his life. 

And that’s also the time that I was born, his third child.

Photo of Muhammad Ali with Michael Hudgens behind him.
Muhammad Ali and Michael Hudgens

In his mid-30s he left Houston for San Francisco and took courses at the University of San Francisco. He always had a great love for that city. Many years ago he visited us there—we lived there and he visited us—and he and Sue went all around the city, taking the ferry and the cable car and looking at his old places where he used to live.

A couple of years later he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked as a technical writer and editor and art director for Hughes Aircraft, later the Hughes-GM Corporation. During that time in his early 40s, he earned his Master’s degree at Loyola Marymount University in Medieval and Renaissance English literature.

Michael Hudgens seated outside on a marble bench in front of bushes in the sunshine.
Michael Hudgeons in San Francisco

Somewhere in those years, on my annual visits to see him, I stopped calling him “Daddy” and started calling him “Dad,” and our trips to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm gradually gave way to visiting the Huntington Museum and the Norton Simon Museum of Art in L.A., where he taught me about art. 

On one of those trips we saw an exhibit on Japanese art and it included this magnificent full samurai gear, full armor and chain mail, and he said “Take a look at that helmet, and notice how the samurai helmet flares around the neck…and who does that remind you of?” and I probably didn’t get it, but he said “That’s where George Lucas got the idea, the design of Darth Vader’s signature helmet for the Star Wars movies.” So he made this connection between Asian antiquity and modern American popular culture—that was a pure Dad-moment. He showed me there is always an origin to things, a chain of influence, a deeper meaning. He was always teaching us, all of us, to look again, and to look more deeply. 

Also during those years in Los Angeles he raised and trained one of the most extraordinary dogs I’ve ever known, a black German Shepherd named Cerbera. Her name derived from Cerberus, the many-headed dog of Greek mythology who guards the gates of the underworld to keep the dead from leaving.

When he was 51, the youngest of his four children, Alexander, was born. Although my Dad came to love Los Angeles, he still sought a childhood life for Ander far away from L.A.’s smog and freeways. While Ander was a baby, Dad had the opportunity to first visit South Dakota and then to buy property here.

So what appealed to Dad about South Dakota after years in Houston and L.A.? Was it the wide-open skies, the haunting beauty of the Black Hills, or maybe it was the friendly conversational Midwestern culture, or maybe the important episodes of American history that took place here? He loved all that…but actually it wasn’t any of those. What appealed to him about South Dakota: it was the moment that he learned of the existence of the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. So if we were to take all of Dad’s biographical details up to this point, his love for tech of all kinds on one hand, and his love for art and literature on the other, and his writing talents and his background and his burgeoning academic ambitions, and based on that, if we were to design the perfect place where Dad could bring all of these broad interests together, of course we would come up with the School of Mines. All of a sudden it seemed everything came together, and Dad had finally found his niche.

He was hired in 1991 as Assistant Professor of English, and in 1998 he earned his PhD in Modern and Postmodern English Literature from the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Then he was promoted to Associate Professor of Humanities at the School of Mines, and he developed a philosophy program—they hadn’t taught philosophy in several years—and he started it basically from the ground up. So he remained and thrived at the School of Mines for 30 years, teaching writing, English composition, and technical communication courses, and upper-level English literature courses. His philosophy courses included Intro to Ethics, Intro to Logic, and a course in Philosophy and Literature. He taught numerous independent studies, edited many students’ master’s theses and doctoral dissertations, and advised dozens of Interdisciplinary Sciences students. His students’ evaluations of his courses were consistently excellent, and his courses were always full.

He wrote three novels and numerous scholarly works that were all published, including a book on “Villainy in Shakespeare” that he had just finished and is sitting there on his computer. (We are going to work on getting that published.) He taught full-time, right up to the very end, and had no plans or intentions to retire. In his courses he frequently brought in his great love for film and used references from popular culture to illuminate his themes. He loved the deep historic traditions of Christianity, and the profound intricacy of Buddhist psychology. 

In 2006 he married Sue, and that’s when I first met many of you. Personally that is one of my favorite moments of my Dad’s life. Thanks to Sue, a new era dawned for me of greater closeness and more frequent contact with my Dad than had been the case for a long time.

 So…I could go on and on and on, but I would like to read some of the comments from his students in the very last classes that he was teaching.

“We never knew what to expect when we walked into class each morning.” 

“He always seemed current with the ways his courses connected with the outside world.”

“My papers were always filled with blue ink as he graded them, but then I always got a good grade.”

“He did seem old, but he shuffled right along.”

“He talked an awful lot about ethics in all his classes. He didn’t want us to become evil engineers.”

“He always responded within 2 to 3 hours of turning in a paper or assignment.”

“He hated it when we misspelled Bertrand Russell’s name. One time I spelled his name with one L and he took 15 points off my paper. [Other students confirmed this:] Yeah, he took 2 points off every time I misspelled his name in a paper—I ended up losing 10 points on that assignment!”

“He was pretty cool. He could translate physics and astrophysics into metaphysics.”

“He loved movies. He talked a lot about all kinds of movies — What Dreams May Come2001Apocalypse Now. He talked about The Matrix for 3 days in a row once.”

“He had bling. Some fancy rings. And he carried a gold cane once in a while toward the end. Also wore Birkenstocks.”

“He had a dry humor. Made lots of jokes. Many were under his breath so you would only hear them if you sat up close.”

“One day, it was about 15 minutes until the end of class, and Dr. Hudgens stopped abruptly and said, ‘The sun is getting low. You should all go climb that hill.’”

Looking back over Dad’s life, taking it as a whole for the first time, we’ve all discovered things about him during these past two weeks that we didn’t know before. He contained many mysteries. I don’t think there is anyone in this room who doesn’t wish they knew him better. 

On behalf of his wife Sue,

his sons Patrick and Alexander,

his brother Patric Dean,

his late daughter Pamela,

his former stepson Clay,

his late former stepdaughter Tracy,

his stepdaughters Ariel and Damaris,

his sons-in-law Ken, Adam, and Rico,

his daughter-in-law Karen,

his grandchildren Michael, Samantha, Jeffrey, Payton, Brianna, Jace, Eden, and Nora,

his former wives Mary Lynn, Ann, Carolyn, and Cathleen,

and his colleagues and students at the School of Mines, however unprepared we all were for this, we wish Dad a fond farewell. We are so incredibly, incredibly proud of the remarkable arc of his life.

The sun is getting low, and we should all go climb that hill.

Ariel Eagle

Michael married my mom when I was in my early 20’s. I was always so grateful that she had found her “person” in Michael. Later, after I had children, he supported and loved them just as much as he did my mom. My stepdad Michael will be greatly missed. 

Friends and Colleagues

Dr. Olivia Burgess, Assistant Professor of Humanities, SD Mines:

I thought this was a cool tidbit from (and about) Michael. It’s a photo and comment he shared with me once that captures his absolute adoration of film and cinema.  

“Here is a photo I treasure, the photographing of Leo. But there is a microphone nearby, and the guy in foreground is wearing headphones and apparently operating an audio panel.

Tame lion, so I read, and though he appears to be roaring when the pix was snapped, maybe it was just a meow. Wonder what the two MGM techs were saying. . . .”

Image of a lion next to a microphone and two men running a sound system.

Dr. Andrew Detwiler, Professor Emeritus of Physics and Atmospheric Sciences

Mike was a fellow who was steeped in the classics, compared to people like me who have been exposed to the classics in a couple of introductory high school or college courses and had only a little rub off onto our consciences. One day in the Faculty Lounge we ran into each other and for some reason got to talking about the Coen brothers’ movie O Brother Where Art Thou? To me it was a Depression-era period piece with some good traditional music, which it is on one level. I mentioned some part of the action in the movie that puzzled me and Mike politely pointed out how closely the O Brother plot line follows that of Homer’s Odyssey and that the action I was talking about came directly from Homer. O the thankless task of the classicist dealing with his science and engineering colleagues who know of the classics but don’t recognize their insights into the structure of our world.

Natalie Neumann, Instructor of English

Michael was very helpful in assisting me to get my first major literary agent.  He also helped me get my first short story published in a national literary review.  He was always straightforward, honest, no frills, and to the point, when it came to publishing, and I admired that.

Dr. Sid Goss, Professor Emeritus of Sociology

I had the pleasure of traveling to Egypt with Mike and a small group of friends several years ago. Mike desperately wanted a photo of himself on a camel, telling me he might want to include it in an upcoming book. The opportunity arose at the Step Pyramid of Djoser. Our Egyptian guide had been keeping our group close together as our time was short and the area was, at that time, a bit dicey. Nevertheless, Mike handed me his camera and said, “Let’s go.” We sprinted toward the cameleer and his saddled animal. The man was prepared for photos, handed Mike some appropriate Egyptian camel-riding gear, and quickly hoisted him onto the saddle as our guide shouted at us to return. The camel stood, nearly throwing Mike over its neck. I snapped away with Mike’s pre-digital film camera, hoping it would turn out. (It did.) We quickly returned to the group, but were watched carefully by our guide for the remainder of our Egyptian adventure. I think of Mike every time I see a camel, or photo of Egypt. I’ll miss him.

Dr. James McReynolds, Professor Emeritus of Psychology

Michael was a pillar of forever. Seemingly tireless, relentless, and a staunch model of rectitude. With my office next to his for many years I bore witness to his intensity and commitment to teaching.

Students

Hilary Eaton Roman, Assistant Director, Career & Professional Development Center, South Dakota Mines

Vests – Dr. Hudgens, without fail, had on a different vest each day of the week. I will always remember being able to pick him out of a crowd as he was walking across campus because of his chosen attire. To me, he was the epitome of a professor, every time I thought of the word “professor” his image would come to mind. His wispy, white hair, tucking his glasses into his front vest pocket, the prestige when he entered the room, his vast capacity for wisdom, and his earnest love of teaching. However, it wasn’t his attire that I remember most, it was his passion for philosophy and his bottomless wealth of knowledge and intellect that he shared with others. He was one of the wisest men I have ever met. Dr. Hudgens spoke about the most complex matters of metaphysics, epistemology, logic, and ethics with such conviction, ease, and refinement.

I was a Mines student from 2008-2010 and remember taking Intro to Ethics, Intro to Logic, and Philosophy 101 classes with him. I will always remember him for using his infamous “Blue Books” for his exams, which you better have made sure that you filled at least four pages with your writing if you wanted to get a good score on your exam. But to be honest, I didn’t regard myself as memorable student, I missed a few classes during Philosophy 101 because it was at 9:45 am, which I found, at the time, to be entirely too early and I didn’t speak up a lot in his classes either. Nevertheless, Dr. Hudgens made such an impression on my life – he made me feel seen and took note of me. He taught me to seek to understand the fundamental truths about myself, the world in which we live, and my relationship to the world and to others. He motivated his students to perpetually engage in asking, searching, and answering life’s most basic questions. The impact that he, along with Dr. McReynolds, has had on my life inspired me to search for meaning and made an existentialist out of me, eventually, going onto pursue my Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health to continue searching for my meaning. Now, come full circle, I have returned to Mines to work as an Assistant Director in the Career & Professional Development Center helping others find meaning in what they are choosing to pursue professionally.

Quite literally, the term “philosophy” means “love of wisdom,” and Dr. Hudgens was just that, a lover of wisdom. I know that death is just another facet of life, and I’m sure he would have something very wise to add here that is beyond me, but I do believe he will live on in the minds of others he taught, inspired, and motivated. In essence, Dr. Hudgens was the philosopher of South Dakota Mines, and I will always be grateful for his imparted wisdom. Thank you, Dr. Hudgens, thank you.

Mike Ray, Communications Manager, Marketing & Communications, South Dakota Mines

In the early ‘90s, I was a long-haired ne’er-do-well struggling to keep up at Mines. Dr. Hudgens taught Tech Comm at the time. He took an interest in my writing in a way no previous teacher had. He inspired me to improve, to work harder, and to continue writing. His influence was an important part of my career in journalism. I know this is just one story of many, as his dedication to generations of students at Mines inspired hundreds of others.  I’m lucky to have known him and he is greatly missed on campus.

Margaret Smallbrock, Campus Environmental Health and Safety Manager, South Dakota Mines

I will miss Dr. Hudgens. I only had him for Philosophy and Literature in the Fall of 2001. I had his class the day of 9/11 and for those of us who were there, he used that 1.5 hours of class time as it was a Tues/Thursday class to talk through what we had watched and the implications going forward. His calming influence about how our world had so drastically changed that morning was very helpful as to how to view life outside of my influence going forward. He was a fantastic teacher and a great man.

Michael Hudgens on a beach in the sunshine, looking away from the camera.
Michael Hudgens outside a cafe in Italy, raising his hand in a wave.
In Turano, Italy

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