Awell-preserved dollar bill earned from his first patient 60 years ago remains framed and hung on the office wall.
It serves as a reminder to Dr. Harold Thomas Hughes of how far back he started in harder times and how far he has come in a profession he passionately represents.
“It’s gone by so quickly. It certainly has,” said Hughes, who, at 86, continues to practice a couple of days each week at his chiropractic center near downtown Auburn. “So much, so many things have changed. There’s a lot more here today than when I first came.”
Sixty years ago, an eager doctor came to lay down family and business roots in Auburn, then a sleepy town of 4,500 with one stoplight. The good doctor came to build clientele on his reputation while advancing the agenda of an evolving profession.
In time, the young blood – who worked his first nine years “underground” without the benefit of a license that was unavailable at the time – helped change the course of his profession. He helped spur changes in Washington state law as chiropractic care gained understanding and acceptance as a professional partner in the state’s healthcare community.
Unaware of his impact back then, Hughes become a respected pioneer who fought for positive change in his craft.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Hughes said of his distinguished career that includes many civic and community accomplishments. “Just to be able to have done it for 60 years … well, it’s a good feeling … to be able to meet and help so many people.”
A fit and active Hughes continues to oversee his clinic today, but with the help of his two sons, Brad, 52, and Thomas, 54. To him, the job continues to feel like a hobby, so why retire, especially when he has so much knowledge and wisdom to share with his sons?
“I’m headed to be 105,” said Hughes, whose father lived to be 96, his mother 92. “I’ll never retire because I’ve seen so many others do it. They curl up and then they’re gone.”
Hughes’ work is far from finished as he continues to add to his legacy. It’s a legacy that wife Peg has been an invaluable partner in since 1942.
“The younger generation might not realize the foundation that he laid for them professionally and politically,” Brad Hughes pointed out. “What he did in the state is known throughout the profession.
“His history, to me, is huge. He dedicated his whole life to this. And Dad never looked for recognition, the glory or the money, he just did the job.”
The elder Hughes grew up in rural Iowa. A spinal injury from playing football and related health problems drew him to the wonders and recuperative ways of chiropractic care.
Hughes spent four years in the Air Force but was unable to fly due to asthma and hay fever. He decided to pursue an education in chiropractic after resolving his health problems with the care. He graduated in 1947 from Palmer College in Davenport, Iowa.
He moved to Auburn to establish a family and his name. He also worked for the licensing of chiropractors in the state, a goal not realized until 1957 when the Legislature passed a “freedom of choice” initiative that ultimately established the profession’s own licensing board.
In 1957, when Hughes received his license, No. 499. That number represents the earliest issued of the more than 5,000 currently licensed chiropractors in the state today, of which approximately 3,000 are practicing.
Hughes went on to build a long and successful career. His committed service has been awarded many times over, earning Chiropractor of the Year honors three times from his international, state and collegiate peers.
His unmatched work ethic and civic duty are not lost on his sons who follow his footsteps.
“He has done so many things,” Thomas Hughes said. “I don’t know that I will ever quite measure up, but he is a great example to try for, right?”
The proud patriarch knows the clinic he established long ago is in good hands.
“This is what I always hoped for, but you don’t know if it was ever going to happen,” the conservative doctor said of his sons. “It’s satisfying.
“They’re doing a great job. They’re doing exactly what I have done for 60 years,” he added.
“It’s a feeling, a very good feeling.”