Jan. 2, 2019 – Slinger, WI – Hundreds of friends joined the Knox family on Monday, Dec. 31 at St. Luke Lutheran Church in Slinger to pay tribute to Howie Knox, who died Dec. 5, 2018.
The tribute below was presented by daughter-in-law Karen Knox.
Good morning! I am Karen Knox, proud to be the daughter-in-law of Howie Knox. Thank you for coming to this service.
Our family is here from far and wide this New Year’s Eve to say goodbye to our beloved father, uncle, grandfather, great-grandfather. You already know this is hard to do because we want him back right now. For us it wasn’t time yet, but we know Howie at 99 has accepted his own passing with anticipation of joyful meetings and reunions and freedom from his weary, weary body.
Howie’s working life started with that paper boy job. He was on the move, doing, fixing, serving — working all his life until about 6 weeks ago: Eagle Scout, runner, Navy skipper, college grad, county agent, recreation director, pastor, camp director, photographer, trumpeter, singer, horn player, volunteer, grand organizer of people and programs, generous giver.
Four years ago our family gathered for a happier occasion in a huge house near Somerset, PA, to celebrate Howie’s 95th birthday. To write a tribute for the occasion, I asked everyone for ideas. I have modified parts of that tribute to share with you now so you can better understand how we treasured and admired Howie.
I’m speaking now as if I’m addressing Howie at his 95th.
The times were grim when you arrived in 1919 in the aftermath of WWI and the great influenza epidemic. Who knew the day you were born in Mount Sinai Hospital, Milwaukee that you would be celebrating your 95th birthday with 17 of your nearest and dearest, nestled in a lovely house in a lovely wood?
Who knew that you would reach 95, sharp, healthy, adventuresome, a world traveler, storyteller extraordinaire, player in two bands, singer in two choirs–and STILL a paper boy on the double at 6:30 every morning.
We honor you for so many reasons.
All your life you have been physically fit and active. You have run cross country, lifted hay bales, played tennis, driven horses, skied and toboggoned, biked with your brother Merle from South Milwaukee to Marion to court your beloved Pearl and BACK (150 miles on single speed, foot brake bikes each way!) You ran and biked to the hospital in Lancaster to make your pastoral calls. You have consistently chosen action, discipline and striving. How many people are still running at a national level when they hit 80? Yeah. You smile and say, “The competition is a lot weaker now!” How many are playing instruments at 95? Only as your legs have started arguing with you, have you begun to slow down. You inspire us to exercise, run, swim, row, referee, stay on the move.
You are a devoted and loyal son of the Cities of Milwaukee and West Bend and the State of Wisconsin. You know Wisconsin’s forests, eskers, kettles and moraines, its farms, crops, produce, its roads, rivers and lakes. You taught it to your kids, especially when you were in the car. Little Nancy’s question was: “How come other kids don’t know what a drumlin is? They don’t know what glaciation did!” The Brewers and Badgers and Packers are your teams. Move you to Florida, and it isn’t you anymore. Take you to Minnesota for Christmas, and you are edgy to get back to holy ground.
Music makes your spirit sing. You brought John and Nancy into that awesome world and began Nancy’s lifelong passion for sacred music. Trumpet and band started that whole love affair for you. We know you played while sitting, standing, marching down the street and in the stadium. You probably played lying on your back. You played for dances you weren’t allowed to dance at. You called for square dances, taught folk dances, joined band after band and choir after choir. Music is one reason you are here today at 95–it has kept you young.
You can talk to anyone! On a Philadelphia subway sitting next to a total stranger in dark, baggy, street-smart clothes, with long dirty hair, hunched over, not very approachable, you said: “So, have you ever been to Milwaukee?” The guy laughed out loud and started talking to you. You have an amazing talent for finding out how everyone is connected to everyone else.
You are a great teacher about the world and the amazing things to be seen in other countries, as well as our own. You showed us how to love natural beauty, pack up a tent and sleeping bags, leave indoor comforts behind and have fun. You are really good at teaching people how to play cribbage, helping them find points they didn’t even notice, then REALLY teaching them who knows how to play by skunking them. You have shown us if we want something enough and are willing to work really hard, we can achieve it. Even the impossibility of supporting a family of four while changing careers and going to seminary you and Pearl made possible.
You are a proven leader, promoting community and good will, always ready to be of service–at the Ridge, with your congregations, family, friends and neighbors. Your goal in each encounter is to make someone else smile or laugh and get involved. You generously donate your time and talents: slide shows, docent tours, Kiwanis, Ye Olde School, music programs, pastoral listening, shopping for the lady down the hall, on and on. You led with a calling in church ministry and with persistence on church councils. You showed Lancaster the vision of a beautiful new church and built it. We honor you for your service in the Navy, especially aboard the USS Tawasa, for becoming the commanding officer at age 24 after an emergency removed the skipper. Thank you for telling us your WWII stories–over and over and over and over. Your experiences have become real for us. You stepped up then to lead, as you do again and again when you see a need.
You and Pearl knew how to stretch a dollar. As one of five children and the son of a plumber, you found the Roaring 20’s mighty tight. Groceries were expensive with three growing boys, even if the girls didn’t eat much. Even though your mother made everything she could from scratch. Even though “maple syrup” for those many meals of pancakes was boiled water with brown sugar thrown in. Then came the Depression, when relatives who had lost everything moved in with you with their own three boys. The squeeze was on. Your dad’s customers who could not afford food and rent did not pay their plumber. Your dad told them, “Pay me later when you have it.” That was a fantasy to help everyone save face.
One night coming back from a band gig, your older brother told you, “Howie, you gotta leave home. Dad can’t feed you.” You showed up on the UW campus in Madison with $54 in your pocket. Registration was $25, lab fees $10. You had $19 to your name. You found an elderly woman who would let you sleep on the closed-in, unheated porch of her boarding house for $2 a month if you would make all the beds every day and clean every Saturday. You got another job at a little diner so you could eat. You could never afford a book. You studied the ones the library had. By the time you scrimped through college, and then seminary with you and Pearl working odd jobs, you made it to your first call –three-point parish, which paid just over $3,000 a year, with chickens brought over every so often from the church farmers. On that you two raised your two children and sent them both to college.
I give Pearl a lot of credit for that. She earned a degree in home economics and dedicated herself to being a 110% mother, wife, nutrition specialist and homemaker. You and she wasted nothing. Nothing was thrown away. Even now, you usually keep whatever is broken — for parts. You wear your clothes until you can see through them. Your shoes have cracks in the soles, and some hand-me-down shoes have holes in the sides so your little toes can stick out. You can now afford shoes that are wide enough to fit your little toes comfortably. It’s OK to wear the gifts of new socks, jackets, shirts that sit in your closet and dresser. But we know you feel you must first use up the old ones the Lord gave you. You and Pearl were devout environmentalists before most of us knew what that was.
How could you know that your stewardship and frugality would be rewarded a thousand times over when you entered your 50’s? At 95, you don’t have to think about money anymore, but you still live as if you are trying to survive the Depression. And every year you quietly, very quietly give away more than you earned in the combined 12 years of your first ministry.
You are a cheerful giver. We are grateful for all you have given us and churches and people in need. With incredibly little income for so many years, you and Pearl could have kept every dime for yourselves in fear of financial insecurity. Instead, even in those lean and how-will-we-make-it years, you tithed and built and supported, and then gave more as others’ needs became apparent.
Words from the great-grandchildren: I like you, Grandpa Howie, because:
You read to me.
You tell me stories.
You gave us your Big Dog blanket, Big Dog.
You have no hair.
When I called for these thoughts from our family, it was remarkable how often some version of the words “amazing,” “generous,” and “inspiring” came flying at me in emails. Know that these are the words that come to mind when your family thinks of you, Howie.
Finally, we treasure you and Pearl for together creating a stable, well-grounded, exploring family. From this have come spiritual meaning, justice seeking, love for our neighbors, open doors, adventures and advantages far beyond what you even dream you are providing. We will be forever grateful.
We have come full circle now. Today, Howie, one of your granddaughters is delivering babies at Mount Sinai, where you first drew breath. She held your hand here when you took your last. We say in gratitude for 99 years of life: “Go, Howie, thou good and faithful servant, go with God. May the longtime sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure, pure light that’s within you guide your way home.”