Since fully retiring from SSU in May 2016, Dr. Elaine McHugh has done anything but sit still and smell the roses. This Penngrove resident has lived all across the U.S., New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Texas and even a short stint in Santa Rosa. However, when she settled in Penngrove in 1996, she knew she’d found her place. With her background in Kinesiology, and a strong drive to volunteer, help people with disabilities, as well as taking the time to adventure around town on hikes or bicycle rides, she’s adding a lot to the town.
Dr. McHugh isn’t what you’d expect when you think of the word ‘retiree.’ She’d been the head of Kinesiology at Sonoma State University, helping guide undergraduates in the Adaptive Physical Education program, and still heads the Bike and Swim Camp put together by United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay. But Kinesiology wasn’t what she first went to school for. She had earned her master’s in dance while in Texas, and headed up to the North Bay after graduating to find a job as a dance instructor. “It was hard,” she said, “There were no jobs, and it was discouraging, but then I heard that they were looking for an Adaptive Dance Instructor at the College of Marin, and it turned out to be the right fit.”
When asked if working with disabled individuals was hard, she vehemently shook her head, “No, no, it’s the opposite,” she said, “People have this wrong idea that working with people who have disabilities as being a sort of selfless act, something that would try their patience, but the opposite is true: we do it for ourselves, it’s a selfish act. We thrive on seeing the energy and appreciation these individuals have for things a lot of people take for granted – like riding a bike. Watching their face light up is worth it, that’s where the satisfaction is; you don’t need patience to do a job you love.”
The question moved to what she’s been doing since she’s no longer teaching at SSU, and she shrugged, “I don’t know…it’s been a change, so I’ve been doing a little of everything. I started taking piano lessons – my mother was a pianist – tap dancing, bird watching. I hike, I run a little and of course I’m still very much a part of UCP [United Cerebral Palsy of the North Bay]. I’m on the board, so that’s a given.” Smiling, she did admit that for all the times she’s been out exploring the town, the one thing she’s had yet to do is watch the Fourth of July Parade. “I don’t know why not,” she laughed “I just…haven’t!”
In closing, the final question was asked: now that she’s a Wine Country local, which Sonoma County wine does she like best? She ducked her head quickly to hide a smile, but her answer was sure, “Cabernet. I don’t have a favorite, I go to Trader Joe’s and pick out wine when I get groceries - I can’t see spending almost $100 for a bottle of wine when, in essence, they’re all made from the same stuff.”
You may see Dr. McHugh grabbing a cup of coffee downtown, or just out exploring. If you’d like to find out more about her work with the UCP of the North Bay, visit the website ucpnb.org.