In the midst of his 14-year tenure as NAU's 12th president, Eugene Hughes jokingly said he grew weary of the Lumberjacks' motto of fostering upstanding student-athletes.
"I was tired of building character -- I wanted to win ballgames," he said to a laughing crowd Monday night at the Woodlands Radisson.
Then he became serious, saying that NAU was doing exactly what it was supposed to do -- building better people.
"That's what the university is about," he said.
For the first two members inducted into the Flagstaff Sports Foundation's 2011 Hall of Fame class, Hughes and fellow inductee Doug Wall were all about strengthening the corps of Lumberjack athletics and Flagstaff as a whole.
Hughes was instrumental in shaping -- and keeping -- the athletic department the way it is today. During his tenure, Hughes was tasked with either reshaping the structure of NAU athletics, or cutting it all together.
Rather than see the demise of the Lumberjacks, Hughes was forced to make the necessary cuts and make the athletic department more financially viable.
As his presenter, former NAU colleague Frank Besnette, ran down the list of sports NAU cut to keep the athletic department afloat, Besnette pointed to Hughes and asked the crowd, "Do I sense some of you rethinking this nomination?" Laughter ensued and Besnette applauded Hughes for saving the NAU program as a whole. Under the rigors of Title IX, Hughes sustained as many of the men's programs as he could while strengthening women's athletics.
For Hughes, cutting the baseball and hockey programs was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make throughout his career in academics.
Along with his stand in support of NAU athletics, Hughes was instrumental in bringing the Arizona Cardinals' training camp to Flagstaff.
In 1988, after the Cardinals came to Arizona, NAU officials made a bid to host the summer workouts, unaware of everything required for NFL training camps. Realizing that NAU needed to do some serious labor in order to host the camp, some of the NAU administration waffled about bringing the Cardinals to Flagstaff that summer, asking for a year of preparation.
The Cardinals, who had other options, gave an ultimatum: host the camp or risk losing us. Hughes was steadfast in his answer, "We want you and we'll do the best we can."
That is what's happened every year but one since then.
Wall was a mainstay at NAU athletics throughout his 35 years in Flagstaff. He worked as part of the Magnum, Wall, Stoops and Warden law firm, where he served as the primary contact for NAU.
He became such an integral part of the Lumberjack community that the NAU swimming facility was renamed the Wall Aquatic Center in 1996.
He taught a business law class for 20 years at NAU and often worked with Hughes for much of their careers.
During his induction, former colleagues shared anecdotes of playing golf, going fishing and gave the crowd a taste of Wall's humor. He likes to make jokes often and doesn't even shy away from sharing some of his more private surgical procedures.
Nonetheless, he remains ever humble despite all the praise he's received throughout his time in Flagstaff. Upon learning of his induction, he was taken aback.
"It can't be me. I don't deserve that," Wall said. "But I'm tickled to death to have it."
Jacob May can be reached at email@example.com or 556-2257.