Making Democracy Work

The Mary Foye Huhta Scholarship

Continuing the legacy of Mary Foye Perry Huhta

In partnership with the MTSU Foundation, this scholarship honors and recognizes the professional contributions Mary Foye Huhta made to local government in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County.

Scholarship Overview

"Good government does not happen by accident." - Mary Foye Huhta

The League of Women Voters of Murfreesboro/Rutherford County has established the Mary Foye Huhta scholarship at Middle Tennessee State University to honor and recognize the professional contributions Mary Foye Huhta made to local government in Murfreesboro and Rutherford County.

Mary Foye Perry Huhta was a long-time resident of Murfreesboro, moving to town in 1965 when she was 29 and remaining until her death in 2016 at the age of 79. During her 50 years in Murfreesboro, she was actively engaged in civic affairs and leadership,and participated extensively in the League and local government, including a tenure as the first woman ever elected to the city council.

Through various service and leadership roles, Mary was in the forefront of almost every quality of life and livability effort in the City, and worked tirelessly to provide parks, recreation and essential services while protecting the historic downtown and heritage and creating attractive neighborhoods and commercial/retail centers of commerce.

The scholarship will continue Mary's legacy by helping students in the MTSU College of Liberal Arts who have a shared interest in government, local politics, and civic engagement.

Contribute Today

You can support the Mary Foye Huhta Scholarship by mail or online.

By mail: Please make checks payable to the MTSU Foundation and send to:

MTSU Foundation Box 109 Murfreesboro, TN 37132

  • Be sure to include Mary Foye Huhta in the memo line of the check.

Online: To make a gift online using a credit card, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/give

To direct your contribution, type "Mary Foye Huhta" in the Other Giving Preferences/Additional Comments box.

Questions?

For more information on giving to this scholarship, please contact Meredith Kerr, Director of Development for the MTSU College of Liberal Arts at Meredith.Kerr@mtsu.edu or 615-898-5223.

More About Mary Foye Perry Huhta

Mary Foye Perry was born September 20, 1936, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Delaware and in Newton, MA, a suburb of Boston. She graduated from Newton High School in 1954, and attended Baldwin Wallace College in Berea, Ohio, where she met her future husband Jim Huhta, and graduated in 1958. She and Jim were married in Newton on December 28, 1958, and then lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he attended graduate school and she worked as an elementary school teacher, including teaching at an integrated school during the first year of school segregation in North Carolina. Mary moved to Murfreesboro with her husband in 1965 when he accepted a position teaching at MTSU, and shortly after the move began her involvement in civic affairs, eventually becoming the first woman elected to the city council.

Mary with her daughters and granddaugters

Not long after she moved to Murfreesboro in 1965, Mary Huhta joined the League of Women Voters (LWV), thus beginning decades of service to her community. The League, a non-partisan organization formed nationally in 1920 and locally in 1957, encourages informed and active participation by all citizens in government. She held virtually every office from finance chair to vice president to president (1971-73) and worked diligently on various initiatives. Mary believed that every citizen has the right to know how government works and that belief is exemplified in her involvement in researching and producing "Know Your Local Government," a booklet published annually so that citizens in the city and county would know salaries and terms of elected and appointed officials and the membership of all boards and commissions. She served more than ten years on the Land Use Committee, which observed planning and zoning board meetings, shared League positions on pertinent issues, and organized information and training sessions.

In 1974, Mary was one of the members who planned a League sponsored zoning seminar for local citizens and officials. An article in the March 10, 1974, Daily News Journal, described the seminar as "a significant contribution to providing information about planning and zoning, two related areas which can vitally affect the quality of life in Rutherford County."

Mary encouraged others to be involved and served as a valuable role model and mentor. As LWV past president, she was quoted in the Daily News Journal: "What we want to do is act as a training ground so that women can learn the ropes, learn about every side of the issues, and then if sometime they want to run for elective office or support a candidate, they do so with a better knowledge of how government and politics work." That climate resulted in LWV members running for and being elected to posts including school boards, county commission, and county executive, as well as appointments to various boards and commissions.

In addition to her efforts with the LWV, Mary served the City of Murfreesboro in numerous capacities. Mary served as chair of the Murfreesboro Beautification Commission and was a member of the Rutherford County Board of Zoning Appeals. In 1982, she ran for City Council and became the first woman to serve on that body. During her first campaign, at a League-sponsored forum, Mary said, "Most people feel Murfreesboro has good government. Good government does not happen by accident." The Tennessean (April 20, 1982) article went on to state: "Huhta said the council must keep the city `a preferred place to live' and must be concerned with rapid growth and enforcing codes. The city must learn how to control living conditions and industrial growth, and continue to find financing for city services, she said."

Upon taking her seat on the City Council, she persuaded Mayor Joe Jackson and the Council to commit one penny of the property tax to beautification efforts, leading to the creation of the Urban Environmental Department the City has today. Other examples of her leadership efforts include the enactment of a Sign Ordinance, which regulated signage of all types, including billboards and road signs; and her beautification efforts led to the passage of the City's first Landscape Ordinance, at a time when property owners argued that landscape requirements were a "taking" for which they should be compensated.

She served on the Parks and Recreation Board, Senior Citizens Board, Tree Board and the Water and Sewer Board. She was instrumental in passing the "no smoking in government buildings" regulation, at a time when three council members and many staffers smoked at council meetings. She participated in efforts to create and sustain the City's Greenway; she was on the Murfreesboro Multi-Purpose Recreation Facility Commission, the group that guided the design and construction of the city's first large scale recreation facility, Sports*Com; she worked to ensure the preservation of Bradley Academy; she obtained federal assistance for Discovery Center and the City's current 45,000 square foot City Hall, wanting to create a working environment and central location for government, citizen engagement, a downtown park-like green space and public library.

Mary left the Council in 1994, having provided, along with the Mayor, Council members and City Manager with whom she served, many of the essential services, ordinances, and amenities which are the core of Murfreesboro's quality of life today: land use, landscaping, directional and commercial signage, greenways and recapturing Stones River, recreational facilities, City Hall and Linebaugh Library, and urban environmental efforts. Mary was in the forefront of almost every quality of life and livability effort in the City, and worked tirelessly to provide parks, recreation and essential services while protecting the historic downtown and heritage and creating attractive neighborhoods and commercial/retail centers of commerce.

In addition to civic and government affairs, Mary raised a family (two daughters, Rebecca Foye Huhta Duke and Mary Suzanne Huhta Payson, both raised in Murfreesboro), and was an active and dedicated memberof St. Mark's United Methodist Church. After her tenure on City Council, Mary pursued her interest in real estate and home design and became a licensed real estate agent in Murfreesboro. After "retiring" from selling real estate, she spent part of each year in Florida to spend time with her two grand-daughters.

Although she loved spending time with her grand-daughters, she was always happy to return to her home and Murfreesboro, a place she once described as "a little slice of heaven." She was a passionate gardener, and interested in decorating and design, and an accomplished seamstress who made many a Halloween costume. She was an advocate for women's rights and the Equal Rights Amendment, and exalted in the fields that opened up for women pursuing careers, as she felt women's career options were very limited when she began working in the 1950s.

Mary passed away unexpectedly on May 27, 2016 in Florida, and will be fondly remembered as a leader in the community, an advocate and mentor for women, who made a difference not only in the lives of those who knew her, but also in the lives of those she did not, by making Murfreesboro a better place to live.