2012-03-29 / Obituaries

Robert ‘Little Bob’ Hughey

Robert ‘Little Bob’ Hughey Robert ‘Little Bob’ Hughey Robert “Little Bob” Hughey, 86, of Goetzville, formerly of Mackinac Island and St. Ignace, was a longtime restaurateur and entrepreneur on Mackinac Island, a key figure in establishing the Lilac Festival, and is a former mayor of the City of Mackinac Island. Mr. Hughey passed away Saturday afternoon, March 24, 2012, at the St. Ignace home of his daughter, Yvonne Della-Moretta, following a lingering illness.

He was born in Detroit September 19, 1926 to Chester and Eunice (nee Stokes) Hughey.

Mr. Hughey told the Mackinac Island Town Crier in a 1960 interview that he came to Mackinac Island in 1944 to operate a nickelodeon concession, but found little money in the enterprise, so got a job as a night watchman at Grand Hotel. He invited his parents to join him that year, and they liked it so much, he said, they stayed.

He was drafted into the infantry in 1945 and was the chef for General McArthur’s headquarters in Japan, with 60 Japanese cooks working under him. He returned in 1948 to work at Robert Bailey’s drug store, and, with his mother, operated the kitchen for carriage drivers at the Lennox Hotel.

He opened Little Bob’s restaurant in October, 1948, he said, “with the capital of three dollars, lots of nerve, and no credit.”

He started the business in a rented building with food borrowed from others, expanding the business over the years to employ dozens of local workers.

Little Bob’s on Astor Street became a Mackinac Island landmark, a popular stopping spot for families, and hosted many famous people during its 48 years. It boasted dollar dinners and “World Famous Key Lime Pie.” Mr. Hughey became widely known in the Straits area as “Little Bob.”

“Bob, who had a gracious personality, was a fine member of our community,” said Jeannette Doud, a friend from Mackinac Island. “He owned and operated Little Bob’s Restaurant for many years, where everyone loved his famous cinnamon rolls.”

One of his favorite memories, Mr. Hughey had recalled in later years, was greeting John F. Kennedy when he visited Mackinac Island in 1961.

Mr. Hughey also owned the Captain’s Table restaurant, on the corner of Astor and Main, now the site of May’s Fudge, and operated the Fort Mackinac Tea Room for many years.

“He was a guy who hired locals and hired family,” said his son-inlaw, Tom Della-Moretta. “He took care of local folks and could always be counted to help when someone was down and out.”

“He started as a little burger joint, and started making homemade baked goods and bread, and he just made it work,” said Armand “Smi” Horn, a longtime friend from Mackinac Island. “He was a hard worker, and he taught his boys and girls to work hard.”

Mr. Hughey took a year off in 1950 to serve as a baker’s supervisor at Selfridge Air Force Base, then returned to Mackinac Island and his restaurant.

On December 27, 1952, he married Patricia Brenzie at St. Stanislaus Church in Goetzville.

The Hugheys spent many winters in the Southwest and, in Arizona, Mr. Hughey was a chef for a country club and a cook at a mining camp serving 2,200 meals a day.

It was in the Southwest during the winters that he said he did most of his dreaming and concocted many of the business ideas he would bring back to Michigan. In later years, he also found an interest in poker and penned a book on the subject, which he handed out to friends.

On Mackinac Island, Mr. Hughey was one of the original organizers of the Lilac Festival in 1949 and was the Lilac Parade Grand Marshal in 2008. He was widely known as one of Mackinac Island’s most colorful entrepreneurs.

He served for a year on the Mackinac Island Board of Education and City Council in 1959 and served for two years as mayor, beginning in 1960.

“He was the mayor and the justice of the peace,” Mr. Horn recalled. “In fact, he performed the [wedding] ceremony for my wife and myself, right there in City Hall.”

After closing Little Bob’s in 1996 on the Island, Mr. Hughey established the Frontier Restaurant on Mackinac Trail, across from Kewadin Shores Casino, operating it for 10 years, serving “Little Bob’s” style food with many family members as his employees. He also owned a St. Ignace downtown gift shop, Thunderbird Trading Post, for a time. He continued to work until he was in his 80s. He had nearly completed writing a book on the business and politics of Mackinac Island.

Surviving him is his wife, Patricia, and their family, Duane and Cindy Hughey of St. Ignace, Kevin and Rene Hughey of Goetzville, Darwin and Martha Hughey of St. Ignace, and Yvonne and Tom Della- Moretta of St. Ignace; three brothers and their families, Don and Phyllis Hughey of Harbor Springs, Arvin and Beth Hughey of Florida, and Chester and Marie Hughey of Charlevoix; six sisters and their families, Neoma Brown of Indiana, Lorraine Kingma of Charlevoix, Wyoma VandeCeveye of Perkins, Bonnie and Ron Holck of Birch Run, Sharron and Walker Whelan of California, and Dawn Kirksey in Mexico; two sisters-in-law, Marilyn Hugey of Petoskey and Karen Hughey of Georgia; 10 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

His brothers, Neil and Carlton, five grandsons, and a best friend, Billy Pickford, preceded him in death.

At his request, no services will be held. Memorials may be directed to Little Bob’s Memorial Garden Fund, P.O. Box 156, St. Ignace MI 49781.

Dodson Funeral Home of St. Ignace assisted the family with arrangements.

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