When the opened in 1972, it wasn’t hugely popular.
At the time, many in the community didn’t see the need for such a building. But Frank Howard saw the center as a vital place for families, a reflection of his own commitment to family, his son said on Tuesday.
Nearly 40 years later, the Rec Center is a staple of the St. Louis Park community and perhaps the most prominent mark of Howard’s legacy as mayor in the early 1970s. On Sept. 27, Howard died at the age of 88.
“He was a classic ‘family man,’” his son, Tom Howard, said. “He always put his family ahead of himself.”
Tom Howard said the “pace” for his father’s life was set in Okinawa, Japan, where Frank Howard served as a Marine during World War II. His service earned him a Purple Heart, and Tom Howard said his father learned about living a life of discipline while overseas.
But Frank Howard had a rye sense of humor, too. Tom Howard recalled a trip he took with his father to the South Pacific after he was out of the service. Upon arriving in Okinawa this time around, a number of local dancers greeted the Howards.
“He said, ‘I sure didn’t get this kind of welcome the last time I was here,’” Tom Howard said.
After leaving the service, Frank Howard, who was raised in Brooklyn, New York, eventually settled down in St. Louis Park. He and his wife, Jeannette, had four boys. Tom Howard said his father was very involved in the community—joining organizations such as the Lions, the Rotary and the VFW—but also found time for things like coaching his sons in Little League baseball.
He also got involved in local politics, getting on the City Council in the early 1960s. He was elected mayor in 1970, but in part because of the unpopularity of the Rec Center at the time, lost a reelection bid in 1972.
As he got older, Frank Howard continued to try new things. He retired from his law firm at the age of 65, but he took classes to become a chef. He also obtained his Class D truck-driving license, though Tom Howard said he never remembers his father using it.
“He said, ‘Once you stop learning, you’re dead,’” Tom Howard said.
Beyond an appetite for knowledge, Tom Howard said the thing that defined his father the most was his kind spirit and love for his family. The younger Howard said that even in his final days, Frank Howard stayed positive, hoping it would rub off on his family.
“He always made sure I knew what was important,” Tom Howard said.