Ex-Fannie Mae CEO brings entrepreneurial spirit to GreenFields of Geneva

John Hughes has been many things in his life: paratrooper, CPA, cattle farmer, philanthropist, educator and business owner. It is his zest for an active and fulfilling life that continues to drive the 88-year-old entrepreneur.

A GreenFields of Geneva resident since last November, Hughes started out his life in Beloit with an ambition that started in the fifth grade when he began collecting old newspapers to sell to the local paper mills.

"You could say I had a proclivity to be self-employed," he said.

He dropped out of high school and followed his parents to Chicago when he was 15. It wasn't entirely a bad career move at the time - he ended up on the Chicago Cubs rookie team in 1944. The country was in the heart of World War II, however, and Hughes said he felt the need to serve. He joined the U.S. Army and became a paratrooper at the age of 18, stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina and Ft. Benning, Ga.

"It was a good life," he said. Though he remained stateside during his time in the army, he was able to take away from his military stint something vital - access to the GI Bill. It changed the trajectory of his life.

"The GI Bill was important," he said. "There were millions of GI's coming out of World War II."

Hughes went back to school and received his GED, went on to college, earned a doctorate and ended up a CPA. He founded his own accounting firm in 1969 in Chicago, where Fannie May Chocolates became one of his clients. Hughes was asked to join the Fannie May team, so he sold his CPA firm and went to the sweet side of the business world to serve as CEO from 1981 to 1991, overseeing 260 stores in 15 states.

His entrepreneurial skills kicked into high gear. To bring a wider audience to Fannie May, a mail order business was started and ice cream was added to the candy line. The company grew to the point that competitor See's Candy, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, was interested in buying the company.

"We couldn't come to an agreement with Warren Buffett," Hughes said.

The company was sold in 1991, but that didn't slow Hughes down. He became a visiting professor to many universities across the country speaking about entrepreneurship - a subject which he was well versed.

He was involved in the Coleman Foundation for 55 years, an organization that provides business educational opportunities for entrepreneurs, as well as cancer care treatment and support for profoundly handicapped individuals, Hughes said. He and his wife of 67 years, Jeanne, started the John and Jeanne T. Hughes Foundation to help those who are driven to be self-employed.

Additionally, for about 10 years, he owned 145 acres in Arkansas that was divided between raising Charolais cattle and a tree farm.

Hughes and his wife had been living in on a 25-acre ranch Taos, New Mexico since the early 1990s. Health issues and distance from family in the Chicago area brought the couple back to Illinois. Living in a rural environment was an important factor for Hughes and his wife, and GreenFields satisfied that living requirement, he said.

"We didn't want to leave the mountains, but GreenFields is a nice place," Hughes said. "It's well built and laid out well. It's the best place for us because it offers all levels of care in case our health needs change. The food is great and there are a lot of activities to keep every resident active."

Ever the entrepreneur, Hughes said that he is working with the staff at GreenFields and its related support foundation to get an entrepreneurial class started for the Lifelong Learning Program.

"There are a number of people at GreenFields that still work," he said. "There are a lot of opportunities to create a new circle of friends with residents and their families, so it's fun."

GreenFields is an exceptional LifeCare community offering an ideal location, a wonderful retirement lifestyle. GreenFields offers independent living, assisted living, memory support, rehabilitation and skilled nursing, with the most comprehensive plan available for long-term care if ever needed. For additional information, visit

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