Herbert M. Howe, emeritus professor and former chair of both Classics and Integrated Liberal Studies (ILS), passed away on Tuesday, June 29 in Fort Atkinson. He was 98. His spouse and colleague in ILS, Evelyn Mitchell (Eve) Howe, passed away two days later, at age 94.
A memorial service commemorating the Howes’ lives will be held at 2 p.m., Friday, July 16 at the St. Francis House, 1001 University Ave. The Howes had met there 70 years ago.
Raised in Rhode Island, Herb Howe received his AB from Harvard in 1934 and came to UW-Madison for his graduate studies. Upon receiving his Ph.D in 1948, he taught for 34 years, officially retiring from teaching in 1982. According to his obituary, he had taught approximately 26,000 students – “more, he believed, than any other faculty member in the history of UW-Madison.” In large part, this came from his mastery of the 400-student lecture he led on myth.
In 1952, the UW Press published his “Classics in Translation,” a two-volume set of Greek and Roman literature written with colleague Paul McKendrick for an ILS course on Greek and Roman culture. Together, the two volumes became the Press’s all-time top selling title; the paperback edition remains in print today. He also provided the translations for colleague Barry Powell’s book “Classical Myth,” itself still the top textbook in its field.
Powell, who retired in 2006, considers Howe a great teacher, raconteur and something of an eccentric. He served as the third member of an ILS team that included both Herb and Eve Howe for 10 years.
“Eve kept track of Herb, in a way,” says Powell. “They had this old sort of Charles Addams house, over in University Heights. They had a room downstairs that was almost a cubbyhole, completely filled with books and artifacts. Herb would sit in one corner and Eve would sit in the other, and they’d both read.”
Eve Howe, originally from London, received her Ph.D from UW-Madison in 1946. She began teaching at a time when few universities, including UW-Madison, offered positions to faculty spouses. Nevertheless, she served as a lecturer and faculty advisor in ILS until her retirement, also in 1982. She taught frequent seminars on 18th and 19th century literature and art, as well as classical art and archaeology and children’s literature.
Together, the Howes took an active role in campus life. In addition to championing ILS, they were perhaps best known for mentoring Ford Scholars in the 1950s — and the legacy of their assistance. The program allowed 15- and 16-year-olds to study at the university, no small feat for young students labeled “Percival Suckthumb” by the humor magazine of one participating school. The Howes not only shepherded the scholars through their classes but held dinners in their home and arranged home housing for women, out-of-staters and those too young for the dorms.
In 2006, several former scholars endowed the Herbert and Evelyn Howe Bascom Professorship, given every other year to individuals who make ongoing contributions to ILS and who have enhanced student learning. A UW Foundation article about the gift described the Howes as a “slightly daunting, very proper, always available and endlessly encouraging couple who cheered on their transitions from kids to collegians.”
Both remained vigorous until a few years ago, when they moved near a daughter to a Fort Atkinson retirement home. Herb Howe, a competitive Masters swimmer who held national and international records in his age group, was named Badger State Athlete of the Year in 2000, at age 88. He rose early for workouts at the Red Gym or SERF pool. Always conscious of the earth, the Howes never owned a car, preferring to bike and walk everywhere.
“You always saw them walking together on the sidewalk; you got used to seeing them on the street,” says Powell. “It was impossible to think of Herb without Eve.”
Survivors include children Evelyn Payson, Herbert M. Howe, Jr., and Emily Howe Wilson, as well as five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Memorials may be made to UW Foundation, US Bank Lockbox #78807, Milwaukee, WI 53278; to Friends of the Madison Public Library, 201 W. Mifflin St., 53703; or to Rainbow Hospice Care, 147 West Rockwell, Jefferson, WI 53549.