A long way to get back
Sometimes you’ve got to go a very long way to get back where you started. That journey might take you through mine fields, several continents, South Pacific islands, Alaska, two oceans, uncounted seas – as well as hunger, disappointment, bankruptcy, and divorce, maybe a couple of heavens and a couple of hells. But if you come home to find a person who was there all the time, the one person who makes your life complete, it’s all worth it.
That’s the story of Howard Large. His life’s journey began on April 20, 1932, in Etna, Pennsylvania. He was not yet four years old when his mother got divorced.
“We went to live with my grandparents in Wilson, PA,” Howard said. “It was a mill house that belonged to the steel mill where my grandfather worked as a blacksmith. When he died, my grandmother had to give up the house.”
Howard’s Uncle Charlie lived on Route 422 just across the state line. He was an electrician at Ohio Edison. He had a friend there named Don Gibson. Don’s parents had a house for rent in Pulaski, so Howard’s family moved there.
“When Don’s father died, his mother had to move into the house we were living in, so we moved across the river into a house that was really beat up. We paid $10 a month rent. We had to replaster it. We was no electricity and no running water. There was a pitcher pump out back, but the water was contaminated. The Erie Railroad station was just a hundred yards up the track. They had a spring that came out of the hill. Every day we had to go up there with a bucket to get drinking water. ”
Howard’s Aunt Min had an inn with a beer garden and cabins. Trucks from Michigan would drop cars off there, and other trucks would distribute them locally.
One of those drivers married Howard’s mom.
“My grandmother on my stepfather’s side bought the house that was right next door to the first house we lived in,” Howard said. “It was a huge house with three floors and ten rooms. We lived there until I joined the Navy on my seventeenth birthday in 1949.”
Howard was sent to boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Station, then to diesel engine repair training. After completing training, he was assigned to a mine sweeper operating out of Charleston, South Carolina.
“They were still mopping up from World War II,” Howard said. “The Germans had mined the harbors. We had to clear them out.”
Howard got married on January 7, 1952, and took his wife with him to his next assignment on Boca Chica, a small island about three miles east of Key West.
“My wife was upset because I wasn’t a Christian,” Howard said. “She wanted me to go to a Baptist church in downtown Key West.”
The impact on Howard was far greater than either he or his wife could have imagined. He joined the church and quickly became an impassioned leader. Frustrated that the church had no room for growth, he left with five others to start a new church. Within 18 months, they grew to 400 members, put up the first building, and paid for it.
In 1957 the Allapattah Baptist Church licensed Howard as a preacher. He started preaching anyplace that would give him the opportunity.
That year Howard was transferred to a coast and geodetic survey ship that was surveying and charting the waters in the Bahamas. Howard’s job was to set up beach camps from which they could triangulate the precise locations of the survey ships.
“People from a nearby town came down to my beach camp and I would talk to them about God. So they wanted me to preach. I preached a sermon one day. After that they wanted me to preach every day at noon, so I did.”
Howard got a little worried when the Navy found out about it, but they surprised him by urging him to keep doing it. They even sent a photographer to take pictures for a magazine article.
When they finished charting the waters in the Bahamas, they went to chart the Persian Gulf. They came back from the Gulf in 1960 and Harold decided to leave of the Navy.
“The Methodist Church in Wampum needed a pastor. My brother who was a Methodist minister got in touch with the superintendent in Grove City. He told him that I was licensed to preach, and they gave me the chance to pastor that church. I jumped at the opportunity.”
After several months there, he learned that if he wanted to use his GI Bill, he had to get enrolled in a college.
“North Greenville Junior College down in Greenville, SC, had accepted me. I was to go from there to Furman University.”
He figured he could get a job and go to school at the same time. So he packed his family up and headed for North Greenville Junior College in Greenville, South Carolina. It wasn’t long before things started going badly.
“I had to rent a place to live, but didn’t have any furniture. We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor. My wife could not take it. So she up and left and went to Charleston where her parents were.”
Howard simply could not find a job, so he went back into the Navy. He was to go advanced electronics school in California. His wife came back to him, but tough times were still ahead.
“I had sold everything and wasn’t getting paid by the Navy yet, so I didn’t have any money. It took us four days to get out there. When we got there, I rented a place. We were hungry. We didn’t have any food. We had babies. I couldn’t feed the babies and couldn’t feed the wife. She was about to leave me again.”
She didn’t, and Howard completed the course. The two of them continued to have conflicts throughout the rest of his military career, but they hung together until Howard retired from the Navy.
Unlike his previous retirement when he couldn’t find a job, Howard did very well in the private sector. He made a lot of money as a state director of distributorship sales for Koscot Cosmetics, a branch of Turner Enterprises. Before long he was director of two states, Colorado and New Mexico.
“They sent me from there to open up Alabama, only this time it was sewing machines. And that’s when things started falling apart. I quit the company because things happened that I didn’t like. So I went back to Albuquerque and started my own company. It was called Marketing Dynamics, Inc. My job was to teach sales techniques, leadership, sales management, and motivation. I had people coming from John Hancock insurance, car dealerships, and real estate companies. I had good luck with it. It was going great.”
Howard’s wife, who had struggled through some bad times with him, apparently couldn’t take the good times.
“She decided I wasn’t supporting her and the kids well enough. She wiped out my bank account which was supporting my business. She left me with $4.95. When she got done, I was in bankruptcy. I lost everything – the valuable properties I had bought in California, my company, and my reputation. In the divorce she was awarded child support – $200 of the $395 I was getting from the Navy for retirement. That left me with $195 to rent a $250 apartment.”
He got a job with Kentron Hawaii Limited who had a contract to perform electronics oversight at a missile tracking station on Quadulan Island in the South Pacific. When the contract came up for renewal, Kentron bid too low. They gave his promised promotion to someone else and cut his pay, so after finding another job with a company that worked in Saudi Arabia and Angola, he quit. But that job fell through before he started it.
He came back to his mother’s in New Castle. While he was there, Kentron called and offered him a job at a seismological station in Alaska. When he got there, he found that it was nothing like what had been promised. After just a few days there, he quit and came back to New Castle. That’s where he rediscovered the best thing that ever happened to him. Her name was Jean.
Jean Morris was born on May 7, 1932, on a hundred acre farm in what was soon to be swallowed up by Ravenna Arsenal.
“They gave us six weeks to move out,” Jean said. “My father bought a farm in Pulaski Township. He loved the rolling hills here. Where we came from it was all flat.”
That’s when, for the first time, she came into contact with Howard Large.
“We went to the same church, but not the same elementary school. I lived in the country, so I went to a one-room school. He went to the big school in Pulaski – two rooms, one upstairs and one downstairs. We went to the same high school. After he left for the Navy, I finished school and went on to college.”
In 1953, while she was still attending Westminster College, she married a Methodist student pastor named Larry Sproull. She graduated with a degree in Music Education.
“He went on to seminary, and I taught at a school in Hillsville that no longer exists. When he finished with the seminary, we moved to North Carolina. My daughter Ann was born there in 1960.
Before long they decided to live closer to home, so they moved to Senecaville, Ohio. Their son Mark was born there in 1963. A year later Reverend Sproull contracted pneumonia and died very suddenly. He was only 39.
“So I moved back home,” Jean said. “I got a job first in the New Wilmington area. Then I went to Neshannock Township schools and taught there until I retired.”
Howard and Jean started to renew their mutual acquaintance while he was on Quadulan Island. The church in Pulaski was buying an organ. Howard’s mother encouraged him to sent a contribution to help pay for it. Jean was the church organist, and was coordinating the purchase.
“I was going to send him a receipt like I did with everybody else. But I thought he’s so far away, I should send him a letter. So I did. We corresponded back and forth. After he got back, I dropped down to see his mother, not knowing he was there. Then he left for Alaska. I drove him to the airport. And I picked him up from there when he came back again.”
They were married in September, 1975. In 1976, when they were both 44, they had a son named Edwin.
And everybody lived happily ever after.
Well, essentially. Howard encountered a few more frustrations trying to find a job around here. Everyone told him he was overtrained and overqualified.
So Howard had to get used to real retirement back home where he came from, in the loving company of his new wife and new son.
And that makes all the travels, the struggles, and the heartbreaks worthwhile.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2008