After three years of studies at Princeton, John Howard served in the military, where he was a member of the 1st Infantry Division, under enemy fire much of the time from D-Day to VE Day, and receiving two silver stars, two purple hearts and a battlefield commission. He returned home to spend his career seeking to reinforce the free society’s ideals and basic principles for which he had been fighting.
At the age of 29 he was named President of Palos Verdes College. Four years later he was appointed Executive Vice Chairman of President Eisenhower’s Committee on Government Contracts, which conducted the first program to use the leverage of those contracts to open jobs to qualified minority applicants. Vice President Nixon chaired The Committee. Other members included George Meany, Walter Reuther and Attorney General William Rogers.
He completed his PhD at Northwestern and in 1960 began a seventeen-year term as President of Rockford College, coordinating the fundraising for, and, overseeing the construction of and the move to a new campus which was paid for without any governmental funds. He mobilized a group of college and university presidents with teams going to Washington (1961-62) to try to convince the Congress that Federal funding of higher education would be a disaster. That campaign failed, but all the reasons cited for avoiding the Federalization of American education proved to be prophetic.
Illustrative of the dynamic educational program under John Howard’s leadership were three week-long arts festivals (with classes suspended): The Medieval Period (1961), the Italian Renaissance (1963) and Creativity and the Negro (1965) presenting numerous internationally acclaimed speakers, performers and exhibits.
Dr. Howard helped to found and served for three years as President of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities to try to minimize the damage of Federal funding. He was a member of the White House Task Force on Priorities in Higher Education (1969-70) to suggest how the Government could help to calm the turmoil on American campuses. He served on the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse (1971-73) and has been a periodic spokesman and author arguing to prevent marijuana legalization.
His memberships have included Phi Beta Kappa, Rotary International, Young Presidents Organization, Chief Executives Forum, The Philadelphia Society, (President of it 1979-80), The Bohemian Club, The Mt. Pellerin Society, The Farmington Trust of Oxford England (concerned with maintaining religious education in the nation’s schools) and the US Chamber of Commerce Committee on Business Overview.
In 1977, he resigned as President of Rockford College to create a think tank devoted to analyzing the damage done to America’s social institutions by the cultural upheaval of the 1960’s. With Allan Carlson, he founded an off-shoot of that Institute, The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, where he serves as a Senior Fellow.
A frequent speaker for national programs, he has given the keynote address at the National Conference on the Future of Private Enterprise sponsored by the NAM and the National Federation of Business, the Banquet Speech at the Daughters of the American Revolution’s National Bicentennial Convocation, the Commencement Address at Brigham Young University’s Centennial Celebration, the Opening Speech for the annual meeting of PEO at Chicago’s McCormick Place, a Guest Sermon at Princeton’s University Chapel and two Lakeside Talks at the Bohemian Grove.
Other occasions have included the annual meetings at the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Wholesale Druggists Association, the Electronic Industries Association, the Young President’s Organization, and the Chief Executives Forum.
He has spoken for innumerable service club meetings including the Annual Meeting of Kiwanis International and the Rotary Clubs of Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
His articles have appeared in many publications including U.S. News and World Report, Christian Science Monitor, Philadelphia Inquirer and Chicago Tribune. He has been a contributing author for Who Should Run The University?, The Family: America’s Hope, Dilemma’s Facing The Nation, On Freedom, Churches on the Wrong Road and editor of Belief, Faith and Reason. His book Detoxifying The Culture was published in 2001. Another book, Christianity: Lifeblood of America’s Free Society (1620-1945) was published in 2008.
Dr. Allan C. Carlson, President, The Rockford Institute, 1986-1997; President, The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, 1998-2015; and co-founder of the World Congress of Families offers the following reflections on John’s life, 1921-2015.
“Born in Evanston, Illinois, in 1921, John Howard spent many summers in Rockford staying with his grandparents, Charles and Mary Sackett. Among his Rockford ancestors was John Manny, inventor of the famed Manny Reaper in the 1850s. [A portrait of Manny graced John’s office for as long as I knew him.] Graduating from the North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, he entered Princeton University in 1939.
Three years later, John’s academic studies were interrupted by entry into the U.S. Army. For the next three years, he served in an armored unit of the First Infantry Division. From D-Day through “Victory in Europe” Day, he was in almost continuous combat, including intensive engagement in the Battle of the Bulge. For his service, he received two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and a battlefield commission. Following the war, he continued academic work at Northwestern University, where he gained B.S., B.A., and Ph.D. degrees, the latter in French Literature.
In 1951, John married Janette Marie Nobis of Davenport, Iowa. They would have four children: Marie, Steven, Martha, and Katherine.
John took a position as an Instructor at California’s Palos Verdes College in 1947. Two years later, he became Dean of Students. And in 1951, at age 29, he became President of the College. Four years later he left that post, accepting appointment by President Dwight Eisenhower as Executive Vice Chairman of the President’s Committee on Government Contracts. This body conducted the first program to leverage federal contracts to open jobs to qualified minority applicants. In this capacity, he reported to Vice President Richard Nixon; committee members included labor leaders George Meany and Walter Reuther and U.S. Attorney General William Rogers.
In 1960, John began a term of seventeen years as President of Rockford College. He arrived at a critical time, for the College trustees had recently resolved to build an entirely new campus, yet lacked the needed funding. He coordinated the fundraising for and construction of 25 new buildings, all paid for without any government money. John expanded the Board of Trustees to include many prominent national citizens, reestablished the college chaplaincy and the practice of invocations at college events, tripled faculty salaries and instituted a pension program, and raised student body size by 50 percent.
John Howard also distinguished himself as an opponent of any federal funding of private higher education, arguing [prophetically] that such aid would undermine the autonomy of such schools. Toward that end, he helped found and served as President (for three years) of the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities.
In addition, John became a prominent, principled foe of the student radicalism and “counter-culturalism” sweeping American campuses in the late 1960’s and early 1970s. His public debates with Stanford University’s “Maoist” Professor H. Bruce Franklin appeared as the book Who Should Run the University? He also debated leaders of the Berkeley “free speech” movement. In 1969, President Nixon invited him to join the White House Task Force on Priorities in Higher Education, to suggest ways in which the federal government might help calm the turmoil on American campuses. In 1971, he accepted another Presidential appointment, this time to the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse; he long continued to argue against marijuana legalization.
By this time, John Howard also won recognition as a leader in the emerging Conservative movement in America, committed to reclaiming and advancing the ideals of ordered liberty. In this regard, he was an early friend and collaborator with conservative intellectuals such as Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet, publisher Henry Regnery, editor William F. Buckley, and future President Ronald Reagan. He gained election to membership in the prestigious Mt. Pelerin Society and the Philadelphia Society, serving as President of the latter in 1979-80.
In 1976, John Howard created the Rockford College Institute, to analyze and respond to the damage done to American social institutions by the cultural upheaval of the late 1960’s. He recruited writer Leopold Tyrmand—expelled from Communist Poland several years earlier for anti-government activities—as editor of a new monthly periodical, Chronicles of Culture (now, Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture). John stepped down as College President in 1977, to become full-time director of the Institute. Over the next several years, he held three major national conferences in Rockford on “Capitalism and Culture,” “Corporate Responsibility,” and “The Family: America’s Hope.” The latter was the first national conference to document and analyze the family decay that had come in wake of the “counter-culture.” John edited the lectures presented at these events into books bearing the same titles.
The renamed Rockford Institute became independent of the College in 1979 and moved to its current location on North Main Street. I joined the Institute in 1981 as Assistant to the President and then Executive Vice President. Chronicles and the monthly monograph series launched by John Howard in 1977–originally named Persuasion at Work and focused in the beginning on the activities of the hard-left in American politics and culture– continued under the new framework. [The latter would be relaunched in 1987 as The Family in America, with an exclusive emphasis on family questions and continues to this day as a quarterly journal.] In 1982, John conceived and hosted a European-wide Congress, “For Your Freedom, and Ours,” held in Frankfurt, Germany and drawing intellectual and political leaders from across the continent. Two years later, John created The Center on Religion and Society. Its first director was Richard John Neuhaus; his successor in 1989 would be Harold O.J. Brown. On Leopold Tyrmand’s untimely death in 1985, Thomas J. Fleming became editor of Chronicles.
On reaching age 65, John Howard retired as President of the Institute, assuming the post of Senior Fellow. In the 29 years which followed, he continued to give lectures, write articles and books, and assist in fund-raising and long-range planning. For example, he was an inspiration for and active participant in the inaugural World Congress of Families (WCF), held 1997 in Prague, The Czech Republic. This event has since grown into an international movement of pro-family leaders and organizations which has held over 30 regional congresses on six continents and will soon convene the Ninth full WCF in Salt Lake City. He also gave presentations at full congresses in Geneva, Mexico City, and Warsaw.
In 1997, John guided the spinoff of several Rockford Institute programs into an independent Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, named in his honor. He holds honorary Doctorate degrees from Grove City College, Rockford College, and Brigham Young University.
Over the years, John spoke before over 500 audiences. Forty-five of these addresses were featured in the publication, Vital Speeches. In addition to the volumes already mentioned, John Howard’s books included: Churches on the Wrong Road (as editor, 1986); Detoxifying the Culture (2001); Christianity: Lifeblood of America’s Free Society, 1620-1945 (2012); and America’s Best Colleges! Really! (2012).
John Howard is survived by his wife, Janette, by his children Marie Howard Schroeder, Steven Lamson Howard, Martha Howard Manning, and Katharine Howard Drerup, and by nine grandchildren. He will be buried in Rockford’s Greenwood Cemetery next to his illustrious ancestor, John Manny.
After a lifetime of devoted service to family, faith, and nation, may he Rest In Peace.”
—Allan C. Carlson, President, The Rockford Institute, 1986-1997, President, The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society, 1998-2015