Family and friends say goodbye to Mel Howery at memorial service, reception

June 20, 2001
Santa Paula News

Family and friends said goodbye to Mel Howery, the former City of Santa Paula Recreation Director and Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, last Friday.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesFamily and friends said goodbye to Mel Howery, the former City of Santa Paula Recreation Director and Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce, last Friday.Mel, 63, passed away suddenly on June 8 in Santa Rosa where he and his wife, Lucia, were visiting longtime friends. The couple were on their way back from a Senior Softball Championship tournament in Reno, Nevada.Services were held for Mel on Friday, June 15 and a reception followed at the Santa Paula Community Center, his second home; Mel has been credited for steering the dream of such a center into reality with an effort that started in 1976. The Community Center finally opened in 1990.Hundreds of people were present for Mel's services and later at the Community Center, where tales of his love for community, people, puns and practical jokes were shared among the attendees.“He was just a wonderful man, a fun person to say the least,” said Mayor Don Johnson.Mel couldn't resist a pun or play on any words: “He'd come in each morning and give me a hug and say ‘Now I've had my coffee and a Little Debbie,’” a brand of pastries, said Debbie Johnson. “And I laughed every time. . .”“I usually avoid these things,” said John Wisda, “but Mel was such a fine man and asset to Santa Paula, I had to come. He was truly a wonderful guy.”
Such words were echoed by all who lauded Mel's dedication to family and community as well as his sense of humor.“Mel always had a joke and made sure everything was running right,” said Beverly Harding, a member of the Harding Park Commission which oversees the independent, self-supporting park named for her father. Mel was instrumental of creation of the Little League complex at the park and worked closely with the commission on park issues, including improvements.Santa Paula's first full-time Recreation Director, Mel developed many of the present-day programs from those for the littlest kids - the preschool - to senior citizens. He also helped develop Las Piedras and Teague Parks, but the nadir of Mel's career was the Community Center, an effort that began in 1974. “We made it on the third try,” he used to say.An active member of the Kiwanis Club for over 30 years, Mel was a state-wide recognized recreation specialist, a member the Professional California Park & Recreation Society and the Southern California Municipal Athletic Association, and their affiliated local agencies; he served on all the boards, including as Chairman and President of the organizations.An outstanding basketball player at Ventura high school and college, Mel attended Long Beach State University on an athletic scholarship and became a top state player and champion. He never lost his love of sports and in 2000 helped win the Senior Slow pitch Softball World Series.Mel retired in 1997 after 26 years with the city but became the Chamber of Commerce Executive Director in January 2000; his personality power, attention to detail and natural enthusiasm rebuilt the failing chamber. He had just retired from the chamber a week before his death.He and Lucia, known as Lucy, were married for 30 years and had many adventures together. “Life with Mel was an adventure, every day was a fun adventure,” she said.When Mel retired from the city, he noted that very few recreation professionals had the opportunity to establish their department from the ground up. “It’s been a unique experience and I’ve enjoyed it,” he said in a 1997 interview. “I’ve made a lot of good friends over the years, done a lot of humorous things, known people I’ve enjoyed. . .with humor you bypass things that bother others. I look at the Santa Paula recreation department as a 26-year-old child; I gave birth to it, and now I’m leaving it. . .it’s time”

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