During the Depression, the six children of the Skeehan family in Baden conducted something of a relay race when it came to college -- one or two of them would go, graduate, find whatever work was out there and then help pay for the next in line to go, until all of them went.
It was an amazing feat at the time, but that love of education was something that would guide them all, including the fifth Skeehan child, Ruth Anne, who got her degree from Seton Hill College in 1939.
Ruth Anne Hugo, who died at age 94 Monday at her home in Highland Park, saw two children each earn two master's degrees and a third earn a medical degree, while spending 25 years as a much-admired teacher in the Norwin School District.
And it was all because of her father, John Skeehan.
"He was a big, blustery Irishman who went to work at age 13 and ended up attending Carnegie Tech's night school," ultimately spending 55 years at the American Bridge Co. as a draftsman and designer, recalled Mrs. Hugo's sister, Judy Skeehan Lackner of Sheraden.
"He said to us, 'I'm going to give you something nobody can take away from you -- an education.' "
In a family full of smart people -- three brothers went to the University of Notre Dame, another sister to Seton Hill and a third sister to Carnegie Tech (what's now Carnegie Mellon University) -- Mrs. Hugo never thought that she was particularly clever, but she was the valedictorian of her class at the former Sewickley High School. And she never thought that she was pretty, but she was voted "Miss Liberty" at the Baden sesquicentennial in the mid-1930s, noted Mrs. Lackner.
While at Seton Hill Mrs. Hugo met her husband-to-be, Lawrence Hugo, whom she married in 1943 before he was shipped to England for the remainder of World War II. She typed a long letter to him every night for three years, never missing one, Mrs. Lackner said.
After the war, the Hugos raised their family in North Huntingdon, where she managed a house full of children and two acres of land, while growing and canning vegetables and fruit and sewing and knitting most of the clothes her children wore.
"My father was a college professor and was always seen as the scholar in the family -- but my mother was the one who made things work," said her daughter, Maryanne Hugo of Highland Park, a physician at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC.
Once her children were older, Mrs. Hugo took a job teaching third grade in the Norwin School District. During her tenure there, she used some unusual tricks to encourage her students: One year, when she was in her 50s, she told the class that if everyone did well on an exercise she had assigned, she would stand on her head, recalled Mrs. Lackner. "They did, and she did. At the end of the year she was surrounded by parents who clamored to know when she was going to stand on her head again. They wanted to be there."
Mrs. Hugo's love of reading was intense, although when she was 90, she splurged on a computer so she could play Scrabble, and then went on Facebook where she made many friends, Dr. Hugo said.
She had trouble hearing on the phone and often used email to remind her daughter of doctor's appointments or errands, and learned to text her granddaughter on a cell phone.
"She was always secretly pleased with herself that she was independent, capable and had mastered things that were not even in her vocabulary 10 years ago," Dr. Hugo said.
Besides her sister and daughter, Mrs. Hugo is survived by another daughter, Rosemary Fielding of Sewickley; and three sons, John of Ashland, Ore., Lawrence of Ruch, Ore., and Michael of Chicago; and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Friends may call from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Joseph Ott Funeral Home, 504 Oak St., Irwin. A Mass will be held at 9:30 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Church in North Huntingdon.
Mackenzie Carpenter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1949.