Hugh Rafferty noticed a fee on his monthly banking statement, and like a lot of people, he went in to his local branch to find out why. Hugh, however, did something most angry consumers would never think to do. He wanted to change the fee policy altogether. So, he ran for the CoastHills Credit Union board of directors. And he won.
“I went home and said I’m going to run for the board and get some of this changed,” Hugh said.
Back then, it was Hugh's first volunteer post, and it kicked off a chain reaction that has seen the Marine Corps veteran and former military contractor take on more than a dozen volunteer board and committee positions throughout Santa Maria and Northern Santa Barbara County. He likes to joke that he holds the record for most unpaid jobs in Santa Barbara County history.
“There are a lot of organizations that really need help and not enough people stepping up to the plate,” Hugh said. “The more I got into it, I just said, ‘These are things you really ought to be doing.’ ”
Two of Hugh's volunteer jobs crossed over on Wednesday when CoastHills donated 100 hooded pullover sweatshirts to Santa Barbara County Veterans Stand Down, an annual event that provides goods and services to local homeless and at-risk veterans — and one of the many organizations to which Hugh donates his time.
Stand Down has been accepting donations at the Santa Maria Fairpark since late September, taking in clothing, toiletries, towels, storage containers and bags, healthcare supplies and more. It’s all in preparation for the Saturday, Oct. 19, event where volunteers will hand out the donations and provide meals, medical screenings, career and readjustment counseling, grooming and much, much more.
It’s not too late to donate. The last collection day is scheduled for October 16 from 12 to 2 p.m. at the Fairpark. Enter through Gate 5 on West Stowell and proceed to the auction barn.
As for Hugh, he is volunteering at Stand Down on behalf of the Marines. A New York native, he first came to California when he was stationed in San Diego in the 1950s. Two decades after his military service ended, he returned to California as a contractor at Vandenberg Air Force Base, settled in Orcutt and has lived locally ever since.
He retired from work at age 65 in 2002, and less than two years passed before he joined the board at CoastHills, where he had been a Credit Union member since 1979. From there, he joined the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. That led to an appointment on the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District Bond Oversight Committee and then the Committee to Improve North County.
In the two years after joining the CoastHills Board, Hugh had joined the board or committees of four more organizations, including the Board of Directors for Coastal Business Finance. He was determined not to take it easy during retirement.
“To be honest, I saw too many people that did that,” Hugh said, “and they never seemed all that happy. Every time you see them, you’d ask them what’s new, and they’d say ‘nothing.’ How do you have a conversation with somebody when they aren’t doing anything?”
Hugh hasn’t slowed down since. He’s also served long-term appointments with Leadership Santa Maria Valley, Santa Maria Public Airport District, California Special Districts Association of Santa Barbara County, Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, Luis Oasis Senior Center, Allan Hancock College Bond Oversight Committee and the Marine Corps League. Within the Credit Union world, Hugh is also a current member of both the California Credit Union League (CCUL) Political Action Committee and the Volunteer Leadership Committee.
He’s a past Volunteer of the Year named by the CCUL and Lay Citizen of the Year as named by the Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation. Hugh has earned certificates of recognition from the offices of former local political representatives Sam Blakeslee and Katcho Achadjian.
In 2017, Hugh was recognized as the Lifetime Honorary Commander of Vandenberg Air Force Base’s 4th Space Launch Squadron. He’s most proud of establishing the Military Wall of Honor, which can be seen at the Sant Maria Public Airport and welcomes home each service person returning from deployment. To Hugh, volunteering is all about a strong sense of duty. And the philosophy that guides him is all about setting priorities.
“Never say you don’t have the time,” Hugh said. “Say, ‘I have the time. I prefer to do other things with it.’ If you prefer to sit home and watch TV instead of going to a nighttime airport meeting, do that if that’s what you want to do. If you want to volunteer, and it’s only at night, then you make that choice. What would I rather do with these next two hours? Do I want to watch television or do I or go out and help. Once you start doing that, the answer is pretty easy.”