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Man who drowned while ice fishing remembered as loving brother and uncle

Family of Shannan Hughes 'still in shock' from his death right after Christmas

Tracy Hughes and her brother, Shannan Hughes, are seen when they were children. Shannan Hughes, 47, of Vinton died last
Tracy Hughes and her brother, Shannan Hughes, are seen when they were children. Shannan Hughes, 47, of Vinton died last month after falling through the ice while fishing. “You just couldn’t be in a bad mood around Shannan,” Tracy Hughes said. (Submitted photo)
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An animal lover, her protector and a beloved uncle to her two children — that’s how Tracy Hughes said she will remember her brother Shannan, the 47-year-old Vinton man who died last month when he fell through the ice while fishing in Shellsburg.

Born in Cedar Rapids and raised in Palo, Hughes, 41, of Costa Mesa, Calif., said Shannan laughed a lot and liked to make others laugh.

“My brother and I were really close,” she said. “He was one of those people that just laughed all the time, and he would make everyone around him laugh. You just couldn’t be in a bad mood around Shannan.”

Hughes said her brother also could be a “real pain in the (butt),” but in a way that was endearing rather than annoying.

“He was bullheaded and stubborn as an ox,” she said. “But, that’s one of the reasons we all loved him. He was loyal and forgiving and if you ever needed anything he’d be the first one to step up and help.”

And his demeanor — his character — inspired loyalty from those who knew him.

“I was always amazed by him that he could be so frustrating at times but still have a group of friends who were so incredibly loyal to him. They were just so supportive of each other all the time and they were all like a family.”

On Dec. 26, Hughes said her brother headed out to a private pond in Shellsburg to do some solo ice fishing, as he had dozens of times before.

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Hughes said she was in a movie theater with her husband and their two small children and her mom, who was visiting for the holidays, when she realized something was wrong.

“It was about 6 p.m. my time, so 8 p.m. in Iowa, and Shannan’s girlfriend was texting me because my brother had not come home,” Hughes said. “And it’s not like Shannan to go missing. She kept saying you need to talk to the sheriff, so I just knew something had happened to Shannan.”

Authorities said a passerby reported seeing Shannan fishing, and later noticed he had vanished and a hole could be seen in the ice.

“From what I understand, the bucket Shannan was sitting on and all his gear was still there, and there was a 3- to 4-foot hole in the ice, and it was not in the immediate spot where the bucket was,” Hughes said.

She said it was possible her brother had gotten up to walk around and stretch his legs or look for a new fishing spot when he fell through the ice.

Shannan Hughes’ body was recovered from the water the following day.

“We’re still in shock,” Hughes said. “It’s devastating. My whole family was very close to Shannan. He was the first grandchild — another one didn’t come along until me six years later — and everybody just loved him. Losing Shannan is a big loss for our family.”

Hughes said her brother was taught to hunt and fish as soon as he was old enough.

“Hunting, fishing, being outside, it was a huge part of our lifestyle growing up,” Hughes said. “It’s how we fed our family. If you could eat it, my brother hunted it — deer, squirrels, bullfrogs, he hunted it all. And after they had harvested the meat, he and our father would often sell the pelts.”

Hughes said her brother also was known for his uncanny ability to find morel mushrooms when they were in season.

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“My brother loved the outdoors,” she said. “I mean he could not be contained in a house, even in the wintertime. He needed to be outdoors to be happy, and so he was always hunting, fishing, always doing something outside.”

The last time Hughes saw her brother was this past Thanksgiving. That also was when her brother got to meet her 5-month-old daughter for the first time and spend time with his 2-and-a-half-year-old nephew.

“He loved my children,” she said. “He loved all children. He was in his element around kids. He was engaging and charismatic and kids loved him, probably because he was just a big kid himself.”

And it was Shannan Hughes’ love of animals, and especially dogs, that inspired Hughes and her husband to get involved in dog rescue in California.

“We’ve fostered well over 300 dogs,” she said. “At first, we fostered Chesapeake Bay retrievers because my brother hunted with Chesapeake Bay retrievers and he loved those dogs. But then we expanded to foster all sorts of dogs.”

The couple since has founded a small rescue organization called Southern California Animal Rescue.

Though the loss of her brother is a tough blow to the entire family, Hughes said she is the most sad for her kids who won’t get to grow up with their uncle.

“He wanted to teach my son to fish, and had already made him his own fishing pole,” she said. “And he would have wanted to be there for all those milestones my children have ahead of them.”

Neither of her children are old enough to truly understand the loss of her brother, Hughes said, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to let her kids forget about “Uncle Shannan.”

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“We've been talking every day about how we're going to keep talking about Uncle Shannan, because we're going to remember him,” she said. “And we're going to look at pictures and we're going to talk about him, and we’re not going to forget him because he still is a part of our family.”

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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