Bill Howse Funeral Service
February 24, 2018 (died February 17)
Note: Bill and Shirley Howse attended First Free Wichita when I was pastor the first time. Toward the end of my tenure, they moved to the panhandle of Texas, where they owned a huge ranch. We visited them there while pastoring in St. Louis. When we returned to Wichita in 2004, we discovered that Bill and Shirley had moved back as well and we renewed our friendship with them. After Shirley died and Bill moved to Larksfield Retirement Center, I visited him regularly, right up to his death.
Obituary: William E. “Bill” Howse, loving husband and father, age 90, of Larksfield Place in Wichita, passed away on Saturday, February 17, 2018. He attended the University of Arizona, where he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity; a member and President of Blue Key and a graduate in 1948 with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Business Administration.
In 1947, he married the former Shirley Harrell of the Harrell ranching family in Armstrong and Randall Counties in Texas. Upon graduation from college in 1948, Bill and Shirley moved to Wichita, where Bill joined the Howse Company, Inc., in real estate and merchandising. He was elected president of the Howse Company, Inc., and served in that capacity until the company was dissolved in 1958.
Bill started his own insurance agency in 1959. He was also active in real estate investing owning several properties in Arizona and Texas. In 1981, he sold his business to Marsh & McLennan and continued on with them serving as vice-president of Marsh & McLennan, Inc., Wichita. During his business career in Wichita, Bill served his community devotedly in various positions, including as a member of the Vestry of St. James Episcopal Church; co-founder and director of Industrial Expositions, Inc.; producer of Kansas Sports, Boat & Travel Show, co-founder and director of Seneca National Bank in Wichita; president of the Rotary Club of Wichita 1964-64, vice-president and director of Wichita Chamber of Commerce and as a member of the Men’s Advisory Board of Wichita Children’s Home. He also served for twelve years as a risk-management and environmental consultant to the Board of Regents of the Mount Vernon Association in Virginia.
In 1984 Bill and Shirley moved to the Lighthouse Canyon Ranch in Randall County, Texas, where they had operated a farm and cattle business since 1966. While living on the Lighthouse Canyon Ranch in Randall County, Texas, Bill was active in farming, ranching, and environmental organizations. Bill and Shirley’s operation of the Lighthouse Canyon Ranch along the rim of the Palo Duro Canyon, southeast of Amarillo, was recognized by governmental and environmental institutions, as well as several universities, for developing environmentally progressive agricultural practices. In 1997, the Texas States Parks and Wildlife Department chose the Lighthouse Canyon Ranch as the outstanding example of conservation of the environment and enhancement of wildlife habitat in the State of Texas.
Bill’s wife, Shirley, preceded him in death on August 12, 2008 after 61 years of devoted marriage. Bill is survived by his two daughters, Mary H. von Merveldt of Wichita, and Joan H. Lewis of McKinney, TX; and by eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. His beloved son, Robert H. Howse, preceded Bill in death on March 4, 2013.
Statement of gratitude and faith: he has emphasized that his good life was given to him by the Grace of God and by the remarkable love and support of Shirley, his wife, business partner, and friend of 64 years, as well as by his loving children.
Homily: A Faithful Steward
I consider it an immeasurable honor that Bill asked me to officiate at his memorial service. I was a young pastor in my mid-30’s when Bill and Shirley came to First Evangelical Free Church back in the late 70’s. He was such a gentleman and so affirming in expressing his appreciation of each and every sermon, some of which I know were not that great. As I got to know Bill, I soon learned of the three great loves of his life—God, family, and the land—in that order.
When I think of Bill’s faith in God, I think of a quotation often attributed, wrongly I might add, to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words.” That is easily susceptible to misunderstanding, for the fact is the Good News of the Gospel needs to be bothspoken and lived. However, there is something about that quotation that rings true to me, especially when I think about Bill Howse. A life well lived communicates godliness even when few words are used.
Marvin Martin already noted that Bill was fairly private about his faith. He didn’t teach Sunday School or testify publicly, but in my many conversations with him over the past several years I heard him clearly profess his unqualified faith in God and in the finished work of Christ. And no one who knew him well could possibly have any doubt about the reality of his faith. He lived it. His gentle spirit, his quiet humility, and his kind generosity all testified to the depth of his relationship with God.
Bill also loved his family. He always treated Shirley with the utmost respect and tenderness. In fact, during her final days in 2008 I visited with them in their home and observed a man whose sole focus was to make her days as pleasant as possible. His love for Mary, Joan, and Bob, and for his grandchildren, was unquestionable—he talked about them with great pride. Losing Bob five years ago was a huge blow that Bill never quite got over.
The third love of Bill’s life was the land. For decades Bill was committed to environmentalism. He was not a radical tree-hugger. He was one who studied conservation of our precious soil and water resources here in Kansas. He invested in conservation, he practiced it and he urged others to do so as well. But his face would truly light up when he talked about the huge ranch Shirley inherited from her father near Canyon, Texas. I was not surprised when in the early 80’s he and Shirley decided to move to the ranch.
I kept in touch with Bill after that move and was thrilled when he extended an invitation to me and my family to come and visit them, which we did in the spring of 1984. What an experience! It was called the Lighthouse Canyon Ranch, about 25,000 acres sitting right on the Palo Duro Canyon, overlooking the amazing stone spire known as The Lighthouse, which actually was part of their ranch until the government decided it was needed for a state park. Their hospitality was so special. I still have the cowboy hat Bill gave me on that visit 34 years ago, and my son who was 13 at the time will never forget his experience there on the Lighthouse Canyon Ranch.
Shortly thereafter we, too, left Wichita and spent the next 20 years pastoring in St. Louis, but when we returned in 2004, we discovered that Bill and Shirley had returned to Wichita as well. Though they were now members of Eastminster Presbyterian Church, my friendship with them resumed as if never interrupted. During his years at Larksfield I have enjoyed monthly lunches with Bill, during which times I would be absolutely amazed at his memory of people, places, dates, and events. I don’t think Bill ever forgot anything or anyone.
When I think of Bill the word that comes to my mind more than any other is “steward.” In the Scriptures the term is used to describe someone who is put in charge of an estate or given a trust or an inheritance and is asked to take care of it faithfully until the owner returns and asks for an accounting. A number of Jesus’ parables concerned stewards or tenants who were given responsibility over cities or vineyards or varying amounts of money. Those stewards were judged according to the varying degrees of faithfulness they exercised over the gifts and assets entrusted to them.
Bill Howse constantly thought of himself as a steward, not an owner. He viewed all he had as a gift from God. It could be wasted or it could be cared for, and care for it he did.
In 1 Cor. 4 the Apostle Paul talks about his own stewardship. He says, “Now it is required of stewards that a man be found faithful,” or as it reads in the NIV, “It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” He doesn’t say, “it is suggested,” or “it is expected,” but rather “it is required.” When God entrusts us with gifts, talents, wealth, family, land, or whatever, He requires faithfulness–not success or popularity or brilliance, but faithfulness.
But how is faithfulness measured? Sometimes we do our best and things don’t work out. We try to treat people right and still get criticized for it. The Apostle goes on to observe, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” Here we are informed that every human judgment concerning faithfulness is premature and inadequate. Other people will always have their opinions about how we are doing but we must not live our lives by their standards. Even our own conscience is not infallible. The human conscience is a God-given barometer that is helpful to determine right from wrong, but we all know that we have an incredible ability to rationalize bad behavior and convince ourselves, if no one else, that what we did was right.
Friends, there is a higher court than public opinion or even the conscience, and that is the Lord God. Paul turns our attention there as he concludes his thoughts: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” You see, a defendant’s own estimate of his innocence is never the determining factor in a courtroom. The judge decides on the basis of evidence. And the ultimate Judge for all of us is God, who happens to be omniscient and understands the evidence perfectly. Only He knows all the facts; only He knows all the motives only He has the right to say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Now to some that may seem like a really scary prospect—standing before the Judge of all the universe and having our lives laid bare. But it can actually be a very freeing concept. It certainly takes the pressure off in terms of people pleasing. We have an absolute obligation to be faithful to One person and One person only. If we are doing the best we can with the tools God has given us, that is what matters. I believe with all my heart that Bill Howse was a faithful steward. He took the tools God gave him and used them well.
Of course, none of us does that perfectly. We are all flawed. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. While in my estimation Bill stood head and shoulders above most of his peers in terms of integrity and faithfulness, he still needed the grace of God to resolve his sin problem. Bill knew that Jesus Christ, who had no sin of His own, died in his place. Bill put his faith and trust in that perfect sacrifice and reveled in the forgiveness of his sins.
When Bill planned his memorial service, he insisted that one hymn be played: Just As I Am. Little did he know that within a couple of days after his own death Billy Graham would pass away at the age of 99. Bill had a great appreciation for Dr. Graham, who made sure that this hymn was sung at virtually every one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of evangelistic crusades he held. As you listen to this song being played, I encourage you to turn in the hymnal and read the words, perhaps even sing them softly. These are the words Bill Howse wanted you, his friends and family, to think about and take to heart as you say farewell to him.
Benediction: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3)