The Legacy of John Howard, 1921-2015

Introductory Note: Dr. John Addison Howard, the namesake and Senior Fellow of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society and International Ambassador for World Congress of Families passed away on August 7. He was a week shy of his 94th birthday. 

In an essay sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations, Dr. Allan C. Carlson, President, The Rockford Institute, 1986-1997; President, The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, 1998-2015; and co-founder of the World Congress of Families offers the following reflections on John’s life, 1921-2015.

Rockford, Illinois – Born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1921, John Howard spent many summers in Rockford staying with his grandparents, Charles and Mary Sackett. 

Among his Rockford ancestors was John P. Manny, an entrepreneur from the 1850s. [A portrait of Manny graced John’s office for as long as I knew him.] Graduating from the North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, he entered Princeton University in 1939. 

Three years later, John’s academic studies were interrupted by entry into the U.S. Army. For the next three years, he served in an armored unit of the First Infantry Division. From D-Day through “Victory in Europe” Day, he was in almost continuous combat, including intensive engagement in the Battle of the Bulge.

For his service, he received two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and a battlefield commission. Following the war, he continued academic work at Northwestern University, where he gained B.S., B.A., and Ph.D. degrees, the latter in French Literature.

In 1951, John married Janette Marie Nobis of Davenport, Iowa. They would have four children: Marie, Steven, Martha, and Katherine.
John took a position as an Instructor at California’s Palos Verdes College in 1947. Two years later, he became Dean of Students. And in 1951, at age 29, he became President of the College.

Four years later he left that post, accepting appointment by President Dwight Eisenhower as Executive Vice Chairman of the President’s Committee on Government Contracts. This body conducted the first program to leverage federal contracts to open jobs to qualified minority applicants. In this capacity, he reported to Vice President Richard Nixon; committee members included labor leaders George Meany and Walter Reuther and U.S. Attorney General William Rogers.

In 1960, John began a term of seventeen years as President of Rockford College. He arrived at a critical time, for the College trustees had recently resolved to build an entirely new campus, yet lacked the needed funding. He coordinated the fundraising for and construction of 25 new buildings, all paid for without any government money. John expanded the Board of Trustees to include many prominent national citizens, reestablished the college chaplaincy and the practice of invocations at college events, tripled faculty salaries and instituted a pension program, and raised student body size by 50 percent.

John Howard also distinguished himself as an opponent of any federal funding of private higher education, arguing [prophetically] that such aid would undermine the autonomy of such schools. Toward that end, he helped found and served as President (for three years) of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities.

In addition, John became a prominent, principled foe of the student radicalism and “counter-culturalism” sweeping American campuses in the late 1960’s and early 1970s. His public debates with Stanford University’s “Maoist” Professor H. Bruce Franklin appeared as the book, “Who Should Run the University?”

He also debated leaders of the Berkeley “free speech” movement.

In 1969, President Nixon invited him to join the White House Task Force on Priorities in Higher Education, to suggest ways in which the federal government might help calm the turmoil on American campuses. 

In 1971, he accepted another Presidential appointment, this time to the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse; he long continued to argue against marijuana legalization.

By this time, John Howard also won recognition as a leader in the emerging Conservative movement in America, committed to reclaiming and advancing the ideals of ordered liberty. In this regard, he was an early friend and collaborator with conservative intellectuals such as Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, publisher Henry Regnery, editor William F. Buckley, and future President Ronald Reagan.

He gained election to membership in the prestigious Mt. Pelerin Society and the Philadelphia Society, serving as President of the latter in 1979-80.

In 1976, John Howard created the Rockford College Institute, to analyze and respond to the damage done to American social institutions by the cultural upheaval of the late 1960’s. He recruited writer Leopold Tyrmand — expelled from Communist Poland several years earlier for anti-government activities — as editor of a new monthly periodical, Chronicles of Culture (now, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Cultureh).

John stepped down as College President in 1977, to become full-time director of the Institute. Over the next several years, he held three major national conferences in Rockford on “Capitalism and Culture,” “Corporate Responsibility,” and “The Family: America’s Hope.” The latter was the first national conference to document and analyze the family decay that had come in wake of the “counter-culture.” John edited the lectures presented at these events into books bearing the same titles.

The renamed Rockford Institute became independent of the College in 1979 and moved to its current location on North Main Street. I joined the Institute in 1981 as Assistant to the President and then Executive Vice President.

Chronicles and the monthly monograph series launched by John Howard in 1977 – originally named Persuasion at Work and focused in the beginning on the activities of the hard-left in American politics and culture – continued under the new framework. [The latter would be relaunched in 1987 as The Family in America, with an exclusive emphasis on family questions and continues to this day as a quarterly journal.]

In 1982, John conceived and hosted a European-wide Congress, “For Your Freedom, and Ours,” held in Frankfurt, Germany and drawing intellectual and political leaders from across the continent.

Two years later, John created The Center on Religion and Society. Its first director was Richard John Neuhaus; his successor in 1989 would be Harold O.J. Brown. On Leopold Tyrmand’s untimely death in 1985, Thomas J. Fleming became editor of Chronicles.

On reaching age 65, John Howard retired as President of the Institute, assuming the post of Senior Fellow. In the 29 years which followed, he continued to give lectures, write articles and books, and assist in fund-raising and long-range planning. For example, he was an inspiration for and active participant in the inaugural World Congress of Families (WCF), held in 1997 in Prague, The Czech Republic. This event has since grown into an international movement of pro-family leaders and organizations which has held over 30 regional congresses on six continents and will soon convene the ninth full WCF in Salt Lake City. He also gave presentations at full congresses in Geneva, Mexico City, and Warsaw.

In 1997, John guided the spinoff of several Rockford Institute programs into an independent Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, named in his honor. He holds honorary Doctorate degrees from Grove City College, Rockford College, and Brigham Young University.

Over the years, John spoke before over 500 audiences. Forty-five of these addresses were featured in the publication, Vital Speeches. In addition to the volumes already mentioned, John Howard’s books included: Churches on the Wrong Road (as editor, 1986); Detoxifying the Culture (2001); Christianity: Lifeblood of America’s Free Society, 1620-1945 (2012); and America’s Best Colleges! Really! (2012).

John Howard died of natural causes on August 7. He is survived by his wife, Janette, by his children Marie Howard Schroeder, Steven Lamson Howard, Martha Howard Manning, and Katherine Howard Drerup, and by nine grandchildren. He will be buried in Rockford’s Greenwood Cemetery next to his ancestor, John P. Manny.

After a lifetime of devoted service to family, faith, and nation, may he Rest In Peace.

Editor’s Note: A Memorial Service for John Howard will be held on Saturday, August 29, starting 11 A.M. at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 2821 N. Bell School Road, in Rockford, Illinois. 

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