As our own John Howard gets ready to take on his newest role as FUMCFW Executive Director, we thought we’d take a more playful look at the real John Howard — and the winding path that brought him to where he is today.
Longtime Church member and lay leader who has served on or chaired more First Church lay leadership committees than most people even know about, John Howard says that he is all set to become Executive Director of the FUMCFW staff starting September 5. As John makes his final preparations to move from his “retirement” from his job in the promotional products industry into a new facet of leadership in our faith community, here’s an opportunity to get to know a few things about this quiet and unassuming fellow that will likely surprise and delight you.
Born and raised in Michigan, John’s circuitous path to this new adventure began in Grand Rapids, stopped off for a while in New Hampshire (had so much fun in college he needed to take a break), and ended up as a Military Police officer in 1968 Saigon (where, among his rougher duties he also managed to play bridge each week at the British Embassy). After returning to the states on leave, then staying to help care for his gravely ill father, John returned to college at Dartmouth (he hitchhiked there from Grand Rapids in the dead of winter . . . at night) just in time to meet Liz (also no stranger to First Church leadership, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves). Then, sporting a history degree from Dartmouth, John married Liz (because he’s a smart man) and while Liz taught preschool, John took the textbook publishing world by storm. For the next decade or two they lived coast to coast, calling places like New Jersey, St. Louis, Ann Arbor, and Burlingame, CA home, with John rising through the ranks (working for publishing moguls such as Prentice Hall, Holt, Rinehart, Winston, and Harcourt Brace) from sales to regional, district, and then national sales manager.
Then the call came to move to Fort Worth, Texas.
“You may be going to Fort Worth, but I’m not,” said Liz. Eventually, however, she came around.
“It took about four days for her to start saying ‘y’all,’” he says now with a chuckle. They visited First Church and knew right away they had found their church — the perfect place for raising and nurturing their young family that had grown by that time to include Anne, a third grader, Rob, a kindergartner, and baby Maggie, an 18-month-old. The Howards were among the 1990 charter members of the Good Neighbors Sunday school class, forming friends and developing bonds as fast if not faster than their children were. “I remember looking over at Liz in church one of those early Sundays and saying, ‘All this moving around we’ve done is so we could end up right here!’” John fondly recalls.
The rest, as they say, is history. These days, with Anne, Rob, and Maggie all grown up with families of their own, John and Liz who are above all, “Amah and Danun” to five grandchildren: Sydney, 6, Elsie, 4 1/2, Ivy, 4, Jack, 2, and John David, 1 1/2, begin this somewhat unexpected new chapter of their lives.
The search for an Executive Director to manage the day-to-day operations of our church staff took an unexpected turn during a breakfast meeting between our then Staff-Parish Relations Committee (SPRC) Chair John Howard and Senior Pastor Dr. Tim Bruster.
The Committee had decided earlier that month to conduct a search for an individual with the experienced leadership background and understanding of the church’s needs who could implement the strategic vision of the church, particularly through administrative and human resource management. A search committee was formed, with a the job description, candidate requirements, and timeline for search and placement. “Our committee often discussed what a daunting task it would be to find the right person to fill this incredibly important role, much less in the time frame that we felt was necessary to have the most impact,” says SPRC Member Allison Barley, who helped lead the Executive Director search. “Candidly, I worried we were talking about a unicorn, but we did not want to settle for anything less than the ideal candidate.
Allison adds that when John told the Search Committee he was interested in the position, they, like Dr. Bruster, were initially surprised but quickly realized what a great fit he is for this job: “John is a well-known, longstanding member of the church who has established trust with both the congregation and the staff,” she says. “His church leadership and professional background make him very well-qualified to serve in the Executive Director role, but more importantly he has a heart for service and a great love for the church and its future.”
“My favorite thing in the world is bringing people together to achieve more than they imagine possible — and have fun doing it,” he adds. “Managing managers is a professional passion for me that runs really deep, right alongside my love for this church.”