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Remembering Howdy Davis

Ned Groth, Spring 2015

(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance is based on documents and personal communications, including yearbooks, class newsletters, and conversations I had with Howdy. He attended virtually every one of our major reunions and was a prolific e-mailer, so I had lots of material. My goal has been to create an honest and loving portrait of our classmate, as we knew him. I’ve striven for factual accuracy, but take full responsibility for any errors. This remembrance can be amended, if need to be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)



Among our class, some of the most loyal and dedicated alumni have been guys the school treated fairly badly when they were enrolled. Howdy is a prime example of that: He was kicked out in spring of our senior year, for consuming an alcoholic beverage, off campus—which was legal for 18-year-olds in the State of New York, but not in the eyes of the school. Given the closeness to graduation and his good academic standing, Howdy was allowed to take his final exams at home, and the school mailed him his diploma that summer, but he was disinvited to our commencement. He was therefore one of only two guys in our class (Terry Duvall, the other, had a far more adventurous excuse) who didn’t sign my yearbook. (Howdy eventually did sign it, at our 20th reunion.)


Despite what seems, by today’s standards, like ridiculously harsh treatment he received, Howdy was proud of having gone to Darrow, enjoyed being a member of our class, and attended virtually all of our major reunions, as well as a few minor ones. Like Gene Cook, who was similarly summarily expelled for the same infraction a year before he was, Howdy was certain that Darrow had helped him succeed academically, and paved the way for his success in work and life. In particular, Howdy was a terrific writer, due no doubt to some intrinsic talent, but Messrs. Bethards and Nunley had unquestionably helped him hone that ability, and he felt eternally bonded with us as a result. Like the rest of us, he also formed lasting friendships at Darrow, which he sustained and refreshed over the years at our reunions.


Like Bill Cosby, Howard Crittenden Davis started out as a child, growing up in the Buffalo area. In his teens, he attended the Nicholls School in Buffalo, where he played hockey but did not get the academic support he needed. He transferred into our class at Darrow at the start of junior year. In his two years among us, he played soccer and hockey (and probably some spring sport not reflected in the yearbooks), sang in the choir and glee club, and acted in the Drama Club. His senior year, he was a member of the Shakers, our elite a capella singing group, and the art club. The yearbook photos below chronicle various parts of his life on campus.



Above: Varsity Soccer, fall 1961; Varsity Hockey, 1962; With Carl Sharpe in ‘Stalag 17,’ 1962,

Below: Philosophy & Religion Seminar, a senior resume-padder, 1962; The Shakers, 1962.





I didn’t know Howdy well at Darrow—we lived in different dorms, played on different teams, were in different classes, on different Hands-to-Work crews. He seemed like a pretty nice kid, unassuming, well behaved, friendly, a good singer, willing to freeze his ass off to get a smoke on a winter evening out by the Shaker post down behind Wickersham. He roomed in Brethren’s Workshop with Steve Foote, Towner Lapp and Carl Sharpe. (His and Steve’s moms had been classmates at Sarah Lawrence!) Howdy seemed an unlikely candidate to get tossed out of school two months before graduation, but as they say (now), go figure.


We all left Darrow—Howdy with a head start on most of us—and went off to college, joined the military, had whatever adventures life held in store for us, and we pretty much lost touch with each other for a while. But in 1968 I felt the need to keep the class better connected and started writing the Class of 1962 Newsletter. Howdy wasn’t much for writing letters, but I did talk with him occasionally during phone-a-thons, and he kept showing up at reunions, so we caught up with him at least at five-year intervals.


The first time I saw Howdy after we (were) graduated [and Howdy would appreciate the parenthetical “were”—he was a stickler for good grammar, drilled into him by RichardBethards, and was known to share with his ample e-mail list frequently hilarious examples of ungrammatical prose], was at our 10th reunion in 1972. We held it on campus in late June, after school had closed, and the weekend was sodden, as the year’s first tropical storm, Agnes, made an unexpected foray up the Hudson Valley. Class participants included eight married couples (the Anthonys, Castellanis, Coffees, Hoppers, Leakes, Rosenbergs, Sharpes and Groths), and two bachelors, Howdy and Anson Perina, plus a handful of former faculty. We enjoyed ourselves immensely even though we had to spend most of the time inside the Dairy Barn. Howdy’s outfit and hair remind me of how strangely most of us dressed and looked back then!


At that reunion, Howdy told me about his life over the previous 10 years. He had enrolled at Syracuse, had a ball there, played hockey…and flunked out! He went back home to Buffalo, worked at a few jobs and attended night classes at Buffalo University, then transferred to Parsons, where he made the dean’s list and was graduated in 1966. After that, in short order, he got married, got drafted, got divorced. The Army trained him in electronics, sent him first to Thailand, then to Ft. Monmouth, NJ, and then to Germany, where he finished up his hitch. Back in Buffalo again, he was working for his father, selling leisure homes, and had been involved in a community-wide recycling project in nearby Amherst, NY.


Another five years rolled by (in the blink of an eye) and it was time for our 15th reunion. I was in the process of getting divorced and didn’t really focus on organizing this one, and the turnout showed it. Only six of us made it—but Howdy was one of them. For some reason I took just one photo at the reunion, and he’s in it. So is Jerrie! (The tiny figures(l to r) are Steve Howard, then on the Darrow faculty and in charge of alumni relations and development; my date, Judi Cummings, and the Davises.) The big news, of course, was their marriage, March 11, 1977. Howdy also had a new job, a sales position with an electronics company in theBuffalo area, and they were at a new address, as befits a married couple, in Williamsville, a Buffalo suburb. The wedding photo below is one I found on Howdy’s Facebook page in 2014.  

By the time the 1979 edition of the newsletter came out, in December of that year, Howdy and Jerrie had a baby girl, Morgan Louise, born in late 1978. Erica (Bauda) came along in 1981. The dad-with-the-baby picture and the family portrait, circa 1982, also came from Howdy’s photo-rich Facebook page.


I reached Howdy during a 1980 Darrow telethon from NYC, where I now lived, and found them coping with minor setbacks. Howdy was down with the flu, Jerrie was nursing the dog, Addie, back to health after an encounter with a car, Howdy had been “promoted” to a regional sales job with more clout but less pay. They were enduring another Buffalo winter, and both the staggering amounts of snow and their survival of same evokeda sense of cockeyed pride.

Our 20th reunion, in May 1982, was our first huge one—22 classmates came back. Howdy and Jerriewere there, of course, with Morgan andErica. We all stayed at the Queechy Lake Motel, and Friday night we partied there. It was a mellow time, sitting around catching up and sharing memories. JohnPrentissplayed his banjo, and Carl and Howdy harmonized; Igot this shot of them singing—I’m not sure whether it was some Shakers reprise or an old barbershop favorite. Thatwas when I first learned about Howdy’s long, passionate involvement with barbershop quartet singing. Whatever they sang, it waswonderful. Next morning I took this “real life” family portrait, and that afternoon one of the out-takes of our class reunion photo shows Morgan twined around Howdy’s feet. As far as news went, Howdy had changed  jobs; he was working for M.C.C. Powers, a company that did energy management plans for other companies. He was loving it and learning a lot fast. He had also been elected to the Planning Board for the city of Amherst,which he told me was the largest town (in area) in western New York, and half the land was undeveloped. He was singing in abarbershop quartet called the “Sons of Pitches,” and getting involved in some local politics. He seemed busy but happy.



Our 25th reunion was also a major event, but I was too busy chasing my own kid (Sarah was then just 2) to take many pictures. Howdy is in one of the few shots I got, but he’s sort of obscured by a lamp post; the photo isn’t worth including here but I know he was there. However, when time came for our 30th, Howdy broke the news to me early that he couldn’t make it—the school had been inconsiderate enough to schedule reunions on the weekend that a barbershop convention was occurring. Howdy was president of the Buffalo-area chapter of the association, and was committed to attend. Thus, we learned about his priorities! By 1992, they had moved to Amherst, a bit farther out in the ‘burbs. The kids were already 14 and 11. Howdy had changed jobs again, was working for a small technical writing firm, preparing manuals and such for various clients. Doing good and keeping busy, he described it.


Our 35th was kind of a non-event; I was too busy with life (our kids were then 11 and 8 and I was working part-time and parenting part-time, while Sharon put in long hours at Newsweek), I did very little organizing, and only five of us showed up, Howdy not among them. There were no more newsletters after 1982, as work and family consumed my time. I still organized a major reunion every five years, and Howdy was there for the 40th, 45th and 50th. I didn’t take notes at those gatherings, recorded no news, but took lots of photos, and so did several others, like Carl Sharpe and Frank Rosenberg. The collage below chronicles Howdy’s rather graceful passage through what used to be called middle age.


At some point, at least with a group of long-time friends like high school classmates, you stop caring much about news, no longer feel you need to impress anybody, and just enjoy seeing each other again. You can almost pick up where you left off five years before, and slip back into that same easy rapport and pleasant camaraderie. Certainly that’s where a lot of us, including Howdy, were by the time of our 40th.


Photos below, left to right and top to bottom: Cropped from the class portrait at our 40th; happy hour at the Inn at our 45th; ditto at the 50th; a couple of cropped images of Howdy’s smiling face, also from the 50th (he was one of the guys taking a lot of pictures); and last but not least, the west side of a couple of east-facing ‘62ers disposing of some used beer, in the Dairy Barn, at the 45th. (Be on notice, at reunions I almost always have my camera, so if I follow you into the men’s room, you may be on Candid Camera. No, nothing is sacred!)




To backtrack in time a bit, by the early 1990’s we all had computers and e-mail, and I developed an electronic class network to fill the void left by the defunct Newsletter. Howdy liked to stay in touch by e-mail. Sometimes that was annoying—he (and Wop!) used to circulate some really lame jokes, and somehow Howdy had grown up to be a Republican, and he would occasionally send around conservative screeds picked up from one list server or another. Now and then he and I would engage in some political bantering, but always with the undertone that such differences were unimportant given our long-standing friendship. Most of the e-mails were just brief, friendly exchanges, and not worth printing out. Occasionally I did save one. In 1997, for instance, he mentioned that Morgan was a sophomore at SUNY Fredonia, studying special ed, and Erica was a rock-climbing high school junior at a Catholic all-girls school near home.


In 2000, I circulated an e-mail called “altered words” to a select list of friends who’d appreciate it, Howdy among them. It was results of a contest in the Washington Post in which readers were invited to supply alternate meanings for various words. Some winning entries included “Lymph: To walk with a lisp;” “Coffee: A person who is coughed upon;” “Flabbergasted: Appalled over how much weight you have gained;” etc. Howdy sent me this reply: “Dear Sir: I personally find this sort of humor crude and repulsive. If you feel the forwarding of such reprehensible material has become essential to your mental well-being in semi-retirement, well then….I envy you, damn it!”


In 2003 Howdy e-mailed me from a work address I didn’t recognize, @turbocompressor.com; in response to my query he said yeah, it was a new job, writing, or mostly rewriting and editing, manuals for compressed air products. He was convinced that “today’s engineering schools have a unique English prerequisite program that would have Bethards in fits….These guys have mastered the use of the future passive, not to mention their adeptness at verbing nouns.”


In January 2006, Howdy e-mailed that he and Jerrie “are now officially empty-nesters,” and also mentioned that in July of ’05 theybecame grandparents, as Morgan and her husband Thom Krauss had produced Hailey Davis Krauss. In July ’08, Hailey got twin little sisters, Kelsey Faith (that’s her on the left, I’m told) and Catie Rose, shown here with their proud sister.


Given their empty-nest status, in 2006 Howdy and Jerrie were up for a new adventure. They quit their jobs joined the training program of the Holiday Retirement Corp., planning to manage one of the company’s 300-plus retirement facilities around the country. They moved to Guilford, CT, for the training, made the cut, and were assigned to manage the facility in Rocky Hill, CT, just south of Hartford, at the start of 2007.  I never heard any more about it, but the next time I saw Howdy (at the 45th), I’m pretty sure they were back in Buffalo. I guess they retired from their retirement career. I did the same, I can relate to that!


Howdy spent a lot of his free time over the years online and was always ready to pitch in when I was searching for lost classmates, usually in the lead-up to a major reunion. I was grateful for the help and he came up with a lot of good leads. I know he found Steve Foote, and think it was Howdy who also found Chuck Arundale, and maybe a couple of others.  


Howdy was also one of the first Facebook users in the class, and he might actually have been my first Facebook friend. He maintained a lively page (posting more conservative rants and lame jokes!) but he also used it to keep the world apprised of his family affairs and the joyous parts of his life. He posted tons of photos, from all points in his life. When you think of Howdy, go to that facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/#!/howdy/photos) and traipse through his memories. I hope the family will keep the page alive, for friends who’d like to do just that. In fact, a lot of the pictures included here were downloaded from Facebook, but I have barely scratched the surface of what’s to be found there.


Less than a year ago, in May 2014, Howdy shared the news with us that he’d been diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Although he underwent chemotherapy and maintained a fighting spirit, he and his family seemed to adopt a new attitude toward life, living in the moment and enjoying each day to the fullest. For Howdy, that meant spending as much time as he could with Jerrie, their kids and their granddaughters. This final montage reflects some of those moments, including what I think was his last birthday party (he’s the one in the dinosaur hat.)






Farewell, old friend. You had a good life, lived it well, made a lot of music, made people happy, did very little harm. Who among us could ask for more. Ave atque vale, requiescat in pacem.




A few more Photos from From his FB page


Howdy & his sister, Margo, below at left




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