A visit with Mr. Ralph Howes Sr., a gentleman and a hero

Ralph Howes Sr. holds his Silver Medal from his World War II service. Behind him is his winter garden on the windowsill of his LaPorte home. (Photo by Sharon Kirkham; click to enlarge)

By Sharon Birlson Kirkham

Recently a high school friend mentioned that it was Vietnam Veterans Day, and that he had received more thanks that day than when he returned home back in 1968. I’m amazed by how many people stop my husband, upon seeing “MARINES” on his cap, to thank him for his service, or out of the blue a strong voice will command “SEMPER FI,” to which Cary responds accordingly.  

Thankfully, while there are several Vietnam vets still among us, a dwindling number of World War II veterans are still available and willing to talk about their service. One such hero, Ralph Howes Sr. of LaPorte, a Silver Star recipient, agreed to a visit.

Ralph turned 95 on Christmas Day, and I can only imagine that he’s been a gift from God to everyone who has known him. What a privilege to meet with him. Cary and I felt like we were in the company of bravery, courage and strength, yet a soul gentle as a lamb, as he welcomed us into his home with a sweet smile and a twinkle in his eye. I noticed a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the dining room table and he explained he had gotten up early to get them as a birthday gift for his daughter, Barb, who was on her way to spend the special day with her dad. His children, Barb and Ralph Jr., and grandchildren live close by and pop in often, obviously to his joy.

The Silver Star, the third-highest medal granted for heroism, seemed to be the last thing on Ralph’s mind as he initiated conversation about LaPorte and the nation. When we asked what he did to be awarded the commendation, he calmly said he didn’t really know which incident in particular it was given for and moved on to the next subject.

A 1940 LaPorte High School grad, Ralph entered Purdue that fall. A year later in September of 1941, he began advanced military training at Purdue, going year round and finished in August 1943 with a degree in Poultry Agriculture. He said he remembers listening to the radio with his dad on Dec. 7, 1941, as every detail about the bombing of Pearl Harbor was being played out.

Mr. Howes taught sixth grade at Door Village and Crichfield schools and later became the principal at Crichfield when it was known as Johnson Road School. He recalled watching the toll road being dug out and told us how he and his bride, Margaret, had built their LaPorte home back in 1963; he still lives there today. Margaret died in 2013.

Donning his bicycle helmet when weather permits, you have no doubt seen him doing his daily exercise, riding his three-wheeler around the lakes. Ralph has logged tens of thousands of miles on his bicycles over the decades.

He told us that in 1977, the man who owned Sambo’s restaurants paid the way for all members of the 635th Field Artillery Battalion to reunite in Ft. Hood, Texas. Speaking “military” about equipment, guns, artillery, trucks, and battalions — a secret language I believe only veterans understand — Cary soaked up every word.

When Mr. Howes told us, as if he were reliving the moment, that he was in Nancy, France the day the war ended, we knew it was time to wrap it up and look forward to another day when 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Howes Sr., a true patriot from the “Greatest Generation,” would share more wonderful memories.

As Memorial Day approaches, we thank all of our local veterans for their service. If any other World War II veterans would like to share their stories with me, please email me at dusty1530@comcast.net.

SHARON BIRLSON KIRKHAM travels and writes. A retired flight attendant, she and her husband Cary were awarded travel privileges for life when she left her job in 2008. They say their intention is to burn it up, and so far they’ve lived up to their promise. Sharon has written and self-published four books, the most recent an e-book, “Skygirl on Cloud 9.” Born, raised and graduated from high school in LaPorte, she and her husband of 36 years are community activists. They love to travel, but always look forward to returning home to their beloved LaPorte.

38 Responses to “A visit with Mr. Ralph Howes Sr., a gentleman and a hero”

  1. Carolyn J.

    May 02. 2017

    Ralph would never dream of telling anyone of the many causes he has contributed to locally – especially buildings at the county fairgrounds, the beautification of the park by Pine Lake, and his church so I shall spill the beans! He well deserves our thanks for his military service as well as his generosity in helping provide for the enjoyment of future generations.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Tim Cavinder

    May 02. 2017

    Thank you for your service to our country. I remember Mr. Howes as principal at Crichfield when I was a student. (My sister had him as a teacher.) He was always very fair, level headed and provided a good example for the children. Happy biking Mr. Howes, may there be many more miles ahead of you.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Rusty Westmoreland

    May 02. 2017

    Thank you so much for your service Mr. Howes and for blessing all of us

    Reply to this comment
  4. Linda Kiger Howell

    May 02. 2017

    Very nice story. Mr Howes was my 6th
    Grade teacher at Johnson Road School.
    I remember he made me stand in the hall
    For talking. 😢 Ha. Glad you did a story
    On him!!!

    Reply to this comment
  5. AJ Serafin

    May 02. 2017

    I remember riding bikes with him back in the early 70’s, and trying to keep up!

    Reply to this comment
  6. Julie

    May 02. 2017

    How nice it was to open up the WNLP website this morning and see this wonderful article on Mr. Howes. I hope to see more of these types of features and less photos of men or women in orange shirts (unless they’re a Slicer).

    Reply to this comment
  7. Grace goers

    May 02. 2017

    Reading this article made me remember what a great friend Ralph is to everyone. I had the privilege of my three children having him as teacher and principal. He loved all the kids at Crichfield School … always a smile and hug from him. He always keeps tabs on his school children and asks about my kids by name, I love him and hope he lives to 100,

    Reply to this comment
  8. Terry Scherer

    May 02. 2017

    Great article on a great man! Thank you! Mr. Howes was one of my favorite teachers when I attended Johnson Road school in the sixth grade. (Mr. Crichfield was principal when I went there). Years after I had him as a teacher, I would run into him (riding his bike) or just out in public. He always called me by name. What surprised me was his military record which you brought out. He never discussed the war in class. A couple of times he would make a comment about being over in Germany in the military but that is as far as it went. Mr. Howes is a great man in more ways than one. I pray that the Lord bless him for all he has done in his service to us in so many ways!

    Reply to this comment
  9. Chris Airy

    May 02. 2017

    Thank you for the article on this wonderful man. What a blessing he has been to the community and to our family. The information on his life, his service, and his memories are very interesting.
    Thank you, Mr. Howes for all you do. You inspire us.
    Chris Airy

    Reply to this comment
  10. Laura

    May 02. 2017

    What a wonderful article about a great gentleman.
    Mr. Howes is truly inspiring in how he served his country and his community, and still enjoys riding his bike. A wonderful life!
    Thank you, Sharon!

    Reply to this comment
  11. Kathleen attar

    May 02. 2017

    Mr. Howes you are the best. You were so good to our kids in Crichfield.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Matt Dowty

    May 02. 2017

    Mr Howes was my principle at Crichfield and is now my neighbor. I always love seeing him on his three wheeled bike on Waverly road and its always a pleasure when we cross paths and get to say hello. He is a true treasure for LaPorte!

    Reply to this comment
  13. Stacey Harris

    May 02. 2017

    There are not enough kind words to describe Mr. Howes. What an amazing man, educator, friend and neighbor. A wonderful article about a very special person.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Dorrie Heath

    May 02. 2017

    Mr.Howes is a blessing and great asset to our country and our community! He was the principal when I went to Crichfield and when my boys went to Crichfield; no disrespect to the current principal, but I believe Mr. Howes is the best principal the LaPorte School system has ever had for so many reasons! Starting with his honest smile that he would greet you with every day, calling each person by name! Oh yes, which is the same sincere one he would also help you with during hard times and hug you with at the end of every day! Bless you, Mr. Howes, wishing you many more years of great times with family and friends! ❤

    Reply to this comment
  15. Amber

    May 02. 2017

    Thank you Ralph for all of your service to LaPorte and the USA. I still remember coming to your house with my Dad to watch them dig the Toll Road then stop in frequently to talk “farm talk” while Margaret fed me cookies. We also watched for your daily spin around the block (about 4 miles) on your bike once you quit farming. Enjoy all those great grandchildren.

    Reply to this comment
  16. Huber's

    May 02. 2017

    A true Legend!

    Reply to this comment
  17. Mary Hiigli

    May 02. 2017

    I am so pleased to have met Ralph at Back Road Brewery. We have talked about, life, death, politics, beer and other numerous subjects.
    A kinder, sweeter man, than I could ever hope to meet. God Bless You and your family.

    Reply to this comment
  18. anne craft [jongkind}

    May 02. 2017

    wonderful to see such tributes to this gentleman. my daughter jane fell of a swing at crichfield it was on concrete at the time; she was in 2nd grade at the time. and sufferd epilepsy the rest of her life / Ralph always asked about her when he saw me and hugged Jane when they met in town 40 yrs later he never forgot her or her name i lost my beautiful daughter in 2012 from a sudden heart attack caused by a blood clot. I hope he sees all these well deserved tributes such a pleasure to know him. and wish him happiness and good health

    Reply to this comment
  19. Lynn severs Apgar

    May 02. 2017

    I delivered Mr. Howes’ newspaper for years. I also went to Crichfield. We saw him riding his bike all over the place… Great loving gentleman

    Reply to this comment
  20. Lorrie Cizewski

    May 02. 2017

    The best principal one could ever have!

    Reply to this comment
  21. Tim

    May 02. 2017

    Back in the late 60’s Mr Howes and Mr Boyd did the unthinkable. They took a young trouble maker from ”Hungry Hollow” and set him on the right path. Thank you for your friendship all these years.

    Reply to this comment
  22. Matthew Risner

    May 02. 2017

    He is the one person I can distinctly remember from Crichfield when I went in the 1980s. Maybe his humble service plays a part in why he is such a memorable character from my young school years.

    Reply to this comment
  23. Maxine Hamann

    May 02. 2017

    Both of my children went to Crichfield school (Patrick and Jennifer) when Mr Howes was principal. Was and is the nicest and fairest man to all students. Thank you for your military service and keep enjoying your bike rides.

    Reply to this comment
  24. Tracy Banghart

    May 02. 2017

    I lived on Waverly Road and remember waving “Hi!” to Mr. Howes as he rode his bike every day. I still feel like a kid whenever I see him. I’m blessed that he remembers me!

    Reply to this comment
  25. Peggy Johnson Portelli

    May 02. 2017

    Mr.Howes was the best and someone I’ll never forget!! He was an inspiration to all..I can’t Thank him enough for making an impact on my life.❤️

    Reply to this comment
  26. Bee

    May 02. 2017

    Not only was Mr. Howes an excellent principal, he was also a master of the Rubik’s cube. I remember that we would all bring Mr. Howes our Rubik’s cubes to solve. Thank you Mr. Howes for being a wonderful role model to a whole generation of Crichfield Cougars.

    Reply to this comment
  27. Cody Jedrysek

    May 02. 2017

    Growing up, Mr Howes was my neighbor. And a friend. He and Mrs Howes were always wonderful and excellent role models. I miss them both very deeply.

    Reply to this comment
  28. Mary Chudzynski

    May 03. 2017

    I remember as a child going to the Howes farm with my mom and aunt to pick up our weekly supply of cream (for coffee) and eggs. Later, my daughters were privileged to have Mr. Howes as their principal at Crichfield. Remembering him always brings a smile to all our faces. Nice article-great role model. Cheers to you, Mr. Howes.

    Reply to this comment
  29. Dick Reel

    May 03. 2017

    Mr> Howes is old school and there are not many like him left. Very thankful he believes in Pioneer Land at the Fairgrounds. He has supported us in many ways and is helping preserve the past for the future. Very grateful for his service that allows us the freedom to live in a society where anything is possible for those who believe !!!

    Reply to this comment
  30. John

    May 03. 2017

    Ralph has been our neighbor for almost 50 years and we have always been glad to have Him and Margaret as friends and a neighbor.We have always admired them and were so sorry when Margaret passed away.

    Sincerely John and Mary

    Reply to this comment
  31. Julie Christenson Renken

    May 03. 2017

    Thank you for your service and God bless you! I have never forgotten you, I and think of you so very often ! You were always so kind to me.I always wondered if you knew what was going on with my mentally ill mom? I admired you then and even more knowing your history ! Thank you for your service and the unknowing admiration a young girl had for you! I admire you even more today! God bless! Julie Christenson Renken

    Reply to this comment
  32. Brian Sappenfield

    May 04. 2017

    Mr. Howes was my elementary principal at Crichfield and then later my university supervisor when I was completing my student teaching at Riley as I wrapped up my undergraduate degree in elementary education. He is a true and kind man who treats others with respect. His dignity is beyond reproach. As I finished my student teaching and was about to get my first classroom with the LaPorte Community Schools, he told me it was one of his proudest moments watching one of “his” students becoming a teacher and comtinuing the tradition. I was so proud to make him proud. He made a lasting impact that will never be forgotten.

    Reply to this comment
  33. Bill Carbon

    May 04. 2017

    Ralph was a school supply customer of mine as the Crichfield principal in the 70’s and we rode bicycles together many, many days in that same time. He would ride out to Kingsbury in the afternoon and then we would ride back to the north side of LaPorte together. What a great guy. We talked many subjects; he had great perspective on about everything. I had his kids in school and always enjoyed Margaret. Later we sang in the church choir together. Ralph was and is just a great, great man.

    Sincerely, Bill Carbon

    Reply to this comment
  34. Susan (Zellers)Meyer

    May 04. 2017

    Mr. Howes was my 6th grade teacher at Johnson Road School. I can never think of that school without thinking of him. It makes me smile every time I see him on his bike. Was a great teacher and is a truly good man.

    Reply to this comment
  35. Jim Hickman

    May 04. 2017

    Ralph as been a very close friend with me and my wife Sue , I have enjoyed playing with him in the bells and band at the Methodist Church and he has enjoyed a special receipt that Sue gave him, it helped him in time of need

    Reply to this comment
  36. Kathryn Olson

    May 04. 2017

    You will never find a better Educator or Friend to the citizens of La Porte. Those whose lives have been touched by knowing Mr. Howes have certainly been blessed.

    Reply to this comment
  37. Barb Z

    May 04. 2017

    So good to see your smiling face, Mr Howes!! We are fortunate to have had our sons have you as their Crichfield principal!! Keep bicycling!!

    Reply to this comment
  38. Kathy T

    May 05. 2017

    I love this story, thank you Sharon! Mr. Howes is an inspiration.

    Reply to this comment

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