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17958 Hughes, David Ralph
The San Luis Valley

Noel Dunne 
206 State Avenue, 
Alamosa, Co 81101

Endorsement for Colonel (Ret.) Dave Hughes - Colorado Springs, Colorado


Dear Sir:

Early in 1994 around 4:00 pm a large 60'ish year old man came smiling to my front door in Alamosa, Colorado. "Are you Noel Dunne?"  "Yes"  "Well I'm Dave Hughes and I'm told we should get together."  I didn't know whether I was looking at the reincarnation of Hopalong Cassidy or Gene Autrey between the huge gray Stetson, the large bolo and the turned up toes of the cowboy boots the visitor was wearing. When he spoke I knew it was neither of the above but rather a new version of John Wayne.

I helped Mr. Hughes into our home with his large leather "Doctors' bag" while he kept hold of a laptop computer. The bag contained a mass of gizmos, gadgets and wires that only the owner knew what they were for.  Immediately he got down to setting up his demonstration while a continuous flow of one-way explanation of  the power of telecommunications came through his opulent corpus from his agile brain. For the next seven hours I listened with my mouth closed and ears open to the amazing knowledge of this lecturer cum ex-USA Army officer. Never in my wildest dreams did I, an Irish missionary and former priest who worked for 25 years in Chile and Peru, believe I would become a friend of a high ranking West Point graduate. Miracles happen.

Never since I peeped in the window of an electronic store in Lima, Peru in 1983 and saw my first computer had I been so excited as that evening with Dave. What helped me realize early on the real potential of computers was not only their database and spreadsheet capabilities but their networking potential. When I came to the US in '86, bought our first 386sx Zeos cpu and connected it to ICG's "PeaceNet",  I knew that something extraordinary was about to happen.

When I came to the San Luis Valley in '93 to be director of a church-based social services NGO I saw my first opportunity to start a valley-wide inexpensive telecommunications network. Alamosa is situated ideally in the center of the 8,100 square mile alpine valley. Local call phone connections into and out of Alamosa to communities as far away as 50 miles are still "local" calls. A computer in Alamosa, from Christian Community Services, could easily run a network in the evenings after work. My problem was could I discover a person who understood my visioin and help me. Little did I know that it was this "angel" with a handlebar mustache, talking non-stop, who would do just that. 

Colonel Hughes and I did not "click" on the economic development side of telecommunications until breakfast the morning after his arrival. Since he had done all the talking the evening before he did not know my background.  When he woke up very early in our small guest house he discovered our Chile and Peru photo albums with explanations of my wife's (Marianne) and my work in economic development for the poor. At breakfast Hughes was animated and excited about our background, our work and our dream of the local telecom network as a tool for economic development. 

It was a revelation to Marianne and I that the Colonel was interested in economic development for the marginalized. We knew colonels and capitalism went together but not a West Point graduate with an option for the poor.  But then Hughes is his own man and no institution, whether it is the US Army, the FCC or the National Science Foundation will impose its will on him without his permission. He has kept his wonderful creative vision and his Welsh/Methodist non-conformist values despite all efforts to make him a conformist if not a follower. Isn't it that hard-headedness that makes a true leader?

Dave Hughes had dreamed of helping the San Luis Valley in some way years before I had arrived. He had met with faculty members of Adam's State College and some local officials but nothing had worked out. I believe nobody knew what he talked about. I think the difference we made for each other was that we understood each other's vision. Hughes, as I do, sees the power of computer communication as a tool not so much for personal gain, rather as a means for easier ecological research to save and improve our planet, a way to help the democratic process, a powerful tool for K-12 schools and a means for the economically disadvantaged to improve their situation. 

When we eventually had the first Valley DOS-based electronic bulletin board functional with Dave's drive and his son David's technical expertise we were all ecstatic with delight. We called it "La Cocina Net", Spanish for "The Kitchen Net". The idea was that most good conversations took place around the kitchen table. Each virtual table was a place for a different conversation whether it was teachers learning about computers and science, soccer mom's, high-school and middle-school kids exchanging school stuff or NGO members learning the advantages of computers in the office. 

In 1996 "La Cocina Net" had one of the first Web Pages set up for Eppie Archuleta, a Heritage Foundation Award winner weaver. She sold spun wool all over the USA and advertised her weavings on her web pages. "Deutche Welle" German Public TV did a piece on our BBS and a European Community researcher on rural telecommunications visited our site. Hughes not only produces, he also knows how to market.

This experiment helped Dave realize that the large, flat alpine valley  would be an ideal site for testing wireless connections between computers.  Why not have schools be the basis for the testing? In that way the Colonel would have a basis for his work and the schools would benefit as well. 

Within a few months the National Science Foundation (NSF) handed David his grant request and the wireless trials began. Dave and his two wireless connectivity engineers got to know the roofs of schools and ISPs. The future-thinking school technology coordinators benefited by having their buildings connected to the Internet via wireless. This caused such excitement that an MCI executive, a San Luis native, did a state of the art computer network for his former High School. A renowned San Luis artist, Huberto Maestas, famous for his outdoor "Via Crucis", built on a hill in San Luis, bought a computer and connected to the Internet. The computer wireless connection between San Luis and Alamosa, a distance of thirty miles as the crow flies, became the benchmark for testing the most advanced wireless modems in the world. Hughes wisely had younger men climbing the antenna towers and roofs in Center, San Luis, Alamosa and MonteVista. He orchestrated the NSF work for three years and created an excitement and interest in our valley of the potential the free airwaves have as carriers of the future Internet. 

David has left the San Luis Valley to work in the exotic jungle of Puerto Rico and the deep lakes of Wisconsin. He is indefatigable. I know he will carry with him his great technological skills, his enormous capacity for learning, his acumen to cut to the core of a problem.  His greatest gift, however, is his innermost core - his spirituality that is based on an absolute love for ALL people no matter of what race, class, creed or beliefs. "Prejudice" is a word he does not know. 

Of course he should be honored as a distinguished scholar/communications expert/soldier and hero of his West Point Class. Do you think he would have it any other way?

Sincerely yours, 

Noel Dunne

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