Hough remembered for dedication to his family, community and business
JANESVILLE John Hough told his lunch buddies earlier this year that he was moving into a senior living center because it was closer to his office than his home on Janesville's east side.
That's vintage Hough, a man described as a quiet gentlemen with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and an immense dedication to his family and the business that bears its name.
Hough, chairman of the Janesville-based Hufcor, died Sunday, a few weeks after returning from his 75th class reunion at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and a subsequent celebration of his 96th birthday in Virginia.
While Hough retired in 2009, he continued to be heavily involved in the company that his father founded in Janesville in 1900 as the Hough Shade Corp.
In fact, he was recently making plans for presentations at a July board meeting and a November conference in Janesville.
Hufcor is the world's largest manufacturer of operable partitions, accordion folding doors, glass wall partitions and portable walls. Its products are installed throughout the world in hotel meeting rooms and ballrooms, schools, religious buildings, convention centers and corporate facilities.
"He was still at it," said his son Larry, who hosted his father in July in Virginia. "When he was in Virginia, he read three newspapers a day."
After graduating from Cornell in 1937, Hough returned to Janesville to work in the family business. He became president in 1946.
As the business grew, so did Hough's appreciation of and interest in the world.
"He loved the family business in Janesville, but he was a man who was very driven by global interests, and I think that awakened for him an interest in current events."
In the 1940s and '50s, Hough was involved with local civil defense groups. He served in leadership positions with the local Boy Scouts and his church, as well as on the board of directors for a local bank, Milton College and Mercy Hospital. He also was a longtime member of the Republican Party, filling various roles at the city, county, district and state levels, including a two-year term as state party chairman from 1971 to 1973.
Hough was a member of the Janesville Rotary Club for more than 50 years, an association that triggered personal and business friendships around the world.
"My father was a very different man in his 50s, 60s and 70s than he was in his late 20s and early 30s," said son Gordon Hough. "He was extremely conservative early on, but he took on a much wider view of the world as he grew older. He was always learning from his experiences, and that helped him continue to grow.
"I think he started as a citizen of Janesville and southern Wisconsin but evolved into a citizen of the world."
That expanding citizenship helped drive Hufcor—which until 1980 was known as Hough Manufacturing Corp.—into new global markets.
One of Hough's proudest achievements was breaking into the Chinese market in the late 1980s.
"How he set up things in China was so clever," Gordon said. "He did it in such a way that China would be obliged to follow through on its commitments. After the Tiananmen Square protests, a lot of companies suffered huge setbacks, but he was very careful that his company was covered."
Whether it was during the 1950s in Japan or the 1980s in China, his father's age, interest and knowledge was culturally respected, Gordon said.
Hough was far more than a figurehead, said William Murry, Hufcor's chief operating officer.
"During his career, John spent months each year traveling the United States and the world, talking to customers, analyzing their needs and leading design of customer-driven products, many of which are still produced today," Murry said in a memo to Hufcor partners.
Hough was an industry pioneer in making operable partitions close to international customers, which cut shipping costs dramatically, Murry said.
"John Hough, the statesman, again traveled the globe to establish regional manufacturing capability, thus extending the Hufcor family and building lasting, trusted relationships and partnerships that remain strong to this day," Murry wrote
" … Hufcor's global family has lost a visionary leader and innovator. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with John have lost a trusted friend, an energetic soul and an inspiring mentor."
Hough's sons described him as a dedicated, supportive father who instilled in them a passion and awareness for the world and the communities they serve.
"He had an incredibly wide sense of family," Gordon said, noting that his father treated the children of his second wife (Annetta) just as he did his own children.
Hough's first wife, Vivian, whom he married in 1940, died in 1983. He married Annetta in 1988. She died in 2009.
"He and my mother worked as team, always offering encouragement in whatever we were doing and teaching us a respect for community," Larry added.
One example, he said, was the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Larry and his partner were edged at the finish line of a rowing event by an East German boat that they'd beaten several times before.
Larry won a silver medal and four years later finished ninth in the Summer Olympics in Munich.
"They were right there in the stands," he said. "For a guy who wasn't particularly athletic, he was a tremendous supporter."
The sons also described their father as an intensely social man, one who took a great interest in people.
"Not a lot of people knew it, but he had a very dry, entertaining sense of humor," Gordon said.
Alan Dunwiddie knew it.
He's part of a group of friends who meet twice a week for lunch, and he's one of those guys who heard Hough talk about his move closer to work earlier this year.
While he knew Hough's move to Huntington Place was more about his health and less about his proximity to the office, Dunwiddie understood his friend's joke.
"He was such a gentleman," Dunwiddie said. "He was very faithful in meeting up with his group of friends twice a week for lunch.
"And he was such a fighter, even though he was struggling. He was bound and determined to get to Cornell for that reunion."
Dunwiddie said that while Hough struggled physically, he showed no signs of slowing mentally.
"He had a memory that just wouldn't quit," Dunwiddie said. "We tried many times to teach him, but he was always the one who taught us."