Two chances at happiness
Taunton is a coastal town in Massachusetts that was founded in 1639. Aside from its age, it is like Sharon, PA, in many ways.
“It’s about the same size as Sharon,” said Howard Wilde, who grew up in Taunton before moving to Sharon. It has an ethnic mix of population. There’s a river running through the middle of it.
“There was a street that went downhill to the river, and then up. In the winter they closed it so we could sled ride. We skated and played a lot of ice hockey. They plowed the sidewalks with a horse-drawn plow – just a v-shaped piece of wood with a guy sitting on it.”
In the summers the kids would swim, fish for crabs and shellfish, or find something else to do for free, or for a few cents, like going to the movies.
“My father Howard was a foreman in a stove factory until the Depression, then he worked for the WPA and did whatever work he could find.”
His mother Carrie kept busy as a housewife and mother, raising Howard, his brothers Samuel and Ralph, and his sister Mary Ellen White.
Howard attended a four-room grammar school, two grades in each room.
“We walked. There were no school buses. Each time I moved up in grade I had to walk farther.”
Howard’s proudest accomplishment as a kid was attaining the rating of Eagle Scout bronze palm (extra five merit badges).
“Back then that was a tough job,” he said. “For the ornithology test, the examiner showed you a page of pictures of sparrows and told you which one he wanted you to pick out. For pioneering I built a lifeguard tower, all lashed, no nails. It was still standing 20 years later.”
Howard also used to mow lawns and do whatever he could to earn a little money. In his senior year, Howard worked six days a week for the local newspaper.
“I got out of school early to carry the newspapers from the press to circulation. I was very happy about that, because I hated Latin and that was the last subject of the day.”
After graduating in 1941, Howard enrolled at Penn State.
“I started in chemical engineering and ended up in metallurgy. We went six days a week, with four-hour labs on Saturdays. After Pearl Harbor, they went to three semesters. I was working my way through, so I ran out of money.”
Howard went back home and tried to enlist, but he was rejected because of his eyesight. Then he got a draft call in November, 1942. They tested his eyes again and decided he could see well enough.
Through excellent performance during training, Howard attained the rank of Warrant Officer and was assigned to the 501st Anti-Aircraft Battalion, which was sent to Honolulu.
“We spent about six months there protecting it from nothing, because our fleet was all out in the Pacific.”
In June 1944, Howard sailed with his unit to the Marshall Islands, 2100 miles from Honolulu. From there, they participated in the attack on Saipan.
“It was more of a fight than was anticipated,” Howard said, “because intelligence missed a division of Japanese Imperial marines. Our subs had chewed up a convoy close to Saipan, and that’s where the surviving Japanese marines went.”
The battle also lasted much longer than expected. The Japanese hid in countless caves during the day and came out to fight at night. Although they knew it was hopeless, they were determined to fight to the last man.
“There were more Japanese killed after the island was declared secured than before,” Howard said. “The Japanese believed if they were captured, they were dead. They’d come out with their hands in the air and a grenade between their legs with the pin pulled.”
Howard’s job was to position gun batteries by triangulating from geographic coordinates. To do that, he needed information from a marker atop Mount Tagpochau, the highest mountain on Saipan.
“I had a jeep and driver for three days to do it. I got to the top, and a Marine colonel was there. He asked, ‘What in the [blankety blank] are you doing up here? Did you know you just came through the Japanese lines?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m here. Tell me how to get down.’”
After the island was secured, Howard remained there with his unit. They were alerted for Operation Olympic, the invasion of Japan. Half a million casualties were expected due to the anticipated fanatical resistance of the military, women and children.
The atomic bombs made that invasion unnecessary, but Howard still becomes very emotional when he remembers what was still to come.
“The worst part was processing the prisoners coming down from the Empire. A lot of them were in tough shape.”
After coming back from the war, Howard resumed working on his metallurgy degree at Penn State. There he got more than an education. At a mixer, he met a girl named Ginny Livingston, from Sharon.
“We clicked,” he said. “We were married June 12, 1948.”
Howard and Ginny both graduated in 1949. Howard worked on a U.S. Steel project for two years. Then the grant money ran out, and jobs in metallurgy were scarce.
“Ginny spoke to her father, Ralph Livingston, who owned Sharon Stationery. He was wanting to retire. We worked out a deal. If either one of us were dissatisfied after one year, that’s it. Well, I found a home.”
Howard went to work at Sharon Stationery in 1951. In 1959, Ralph sold his portion of the business to Jack Pierce.
“Jack and I worked together for about 20 years, then I bought him out. Eventually I got tired of running the business by myself, so we merged with Castle Stationery in 1996. In 2002 Hicks bought Castle. I worked with Hicks for two years until I retired on Dec. 31, 2004.”
During that time, Howard and Ginny had two children, Susan (born in 1954) and David (1960).
In addition to running his business, Howard got involved in community affairs. When a local committee was formed in the early 1960s to establish a branch campus in Sharon, Howard was invited to help.
“Hank Forker, Dave Goldberg, and Howard McQuistion were prime movers in getting Penn State here,” Howard said. “But there were no Penn State alumni on the advisory board. McQuiston suggested me, and I was appointed. I’ve been on it ever since.”
Penn State started holding classes in 1965 at Kennedy Christian High School, with plans to establish a campus along the Shenango River. That turned out to be a struggle. Other people had their eye on that land for other purposes, and not everyone saw the value of having Penn State here.
“I asked Mayor Scott for an appointment to the redevelopment authority to protect Penn State,” Howard said. “I got it. After two years I was elected chairman. The authority consisted at that time of Jim Connelly, Sherman Jubelirer, Sarah Dillon Austin, Pete Daffin, and myself.”
Gradually, through the purchase of the old Sharon Junior High School and other buildings, as well as the construction of new ones, the campus took the shape that it has today. But Penn State wasn’t the only success of the redevelopment authority.
“We had two projects: North Flats, which is where Penn State is, and South Flats, which is where all the high rises are. There were two elderly high rises built, then a market rental, the one along the river, and the section 8 housing. In 1976, the bicentennial park won the Bellamy Award as the best redevelopment project in the state.”
Howard’s wife Ginny passed away in 1999.
“The problem is, it’s not too good to be 77 and alone,” Howard said. “But where can you meet someone for companionship? The bar scene is not it. And churches aren’t built to handle it.”
So what’s the not-so-obvious answer for a senior citizen? The Internet, of course! Through a singles site called “One and Only,” he met Fay Lentz, who had survived 35 years with her six children in an abusive marriage.
“I didn’t date for 15 years after my divorce,” Fay said. “I didn’t want anything to do with any man. But as I was getting older, and I thought I’d like to have a little companionship once in a while, go to dinner or the theater or something.”
The site matched her up with Howard.
“ I read his profile and saw his picture, and I thought, hmm, I could love that guy. But we almost didn’t get together. He didn’t respond to my initial letter because he was in Massachusetts for two weeks. He came back and saw my note, and we wrote to each other a couple of times, and he asked me out to lunch. And voila, here we are. We dated for five years, and then we got married. Howard is so wonderful. I couldn’t believe when I started dating him that a man could be so wonderful.”
Like other young people, Howard and Fay are thoroughly enjoying their life together, whether traveling or keeping active at home.
“We each have our own computer, and we have a lap top we take on vacation,” Fay said.
Fay has always loved photography. In the past, she had a dark room. Now she is becoming an expert with digital photography. She also participates in the writer’s group at the Shenango Valley Senior Center, where she faces the pain and struggles of her first marriage by writing about them.
Howard is a 32nd degree Mason, with over 50 years at Lodge 250/389. He is a past president of Downtown Sharon Merchants, and belongs to American Legion 299, VFW 6166, Sharon Rotary, and Sharon Elks. He is a 50+ year member of most of them.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 3, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2009