Date of Birth
Date of Death
Leslie L. “Les” Howard, age 86, passed away early Sunday morning, November 17, 2019. Encompassed by the loving care of his family, Lesâ€™ battle came to an end and he slipped from his recliner into the arms of his Savior to a place prepared for him.
Les was born on the farm in Franklin Twp., IL, the youngest son of William L. and Gertrude Elsie (Vowles) Howard. Lesâ€™ mother was not well enough to care for their new baby. His three brothers were old enough to help on the farm but there was no one to care for him at home, so soon he went to live with the hired manâ€™s family down the road. Les made his home with his “foster” family until he was five years old. He returned then to his dad and his brothers to make their home on a farm in rural Maple Park.
He began first grade at the country school just down the road until the family moved to rural Elburn in the early 1940â€™s.
Les attended Elburn High School and excelled at almost every sport. He may not have been the biggest athlete, but his smaller stature belied a wiry strength and determination, winning him admiration and respect in track, pole vaulting, baseball, basketball and football. Before graduation in 1951, Les joined the U.S. Naval Reserves, reporting for active duty in 1953. Not long after being assigned to the engine room on the USS Rockbridge, he developed tinnitus. This ultimately led to some permanent hearing loss and his honorable discharge in 1954. Les remained steadfast in his belief that he could overcome any obstacle, and upon his return to Elburn, he attended DeVry Institute in Chicago. Completing his courses, he worked for a time for Leo Schramer in Virgil before opening Howardâ€™s Radio & TV in Elburn. His storefront business served as “home base” as he traveled around the countryside in his old Chevy station wagon making repairs and setting up new antennas. It was also the place where he and Karen Conley began their courtship.
Karen stopped by one February morning in 1964 and volunteered to do his yearly parts inventory. A morning of counting parts led to lunch, afternoon coffee and soon dinner at the Bohemia Restaurant. The spark had been kindled and just a little more than six months later they were united in marriage at the Elburn Congregational Church. Les was 31 and Karen was 19; some said it wouldnâ€™t last. They made their first home in Karenâ€™s grandmotherâ€™s house on Pierce St. in Elburn. Late in 1967, they moved across the block to Gates St. before moving once more to the Howard family home in 1970. Nearly 50 years later that has continued to be their home.
Les worked a number of jobs over the years, tackling each one with singular determination and strength of will, culminating in a reputation of being able to “fix anything”. He applied that resolve over and over again throughout his time working for Altepeterâ€™s Heating and Plumbing, Abrahamsonâ€™s Heating and Plumbing, Blackberry Township, Elburn Packing Company and J & R Herra Heating and Plumbing. He also worked as an Elburn Police officer for several years.
He was an honorary member of the Elburn & Countryside
Fire Department as well as a member of the Elburn American Legion Post #630.
In 1955, Les joined the Elburn Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter. For the next 25 years, he would commit his time and his passion to the work and in return found a brotherhood that became an extended part of his family. As a volunteer, Les dropped whatever he was doing when the whistle blew whether he was in the middle of a job or Christmas dinner. There was a commitment to service and the training it required. In the 1970â€™s, countless nights were spent training as the department prepared for their first “rodeo”. Les took great pride in the first place trophies that resulted from that competition. Over time he advanced to Lieutenant, the rank he held when he retired in 1980. His days of working on fire trucks were not completely over, however. In the early 2000â€™s, Jim Feece asked Les to get “old No. 1” running well enough to be in the Elburn Days parade. He worked on repairing and polishing it in the parking lot of the fire station. It was during those hot, summer days that he met the newer members of the department. It was a perfect time to tell the old stories and once again feel a part of the brotherhood. On Sunday morning, the men and women of the Elburn Fire Department recognized Lesâ€™ service by providing an honor line on both sides of the driveway to salute him as he left home for the last time.
Lesâ€™ hands were ever busy and the fixing and tinkering at work extended to his home life as well. He learned early in life to make do with what you had to work with, allowing his imagination to point his way to success. Cars, lawn mowers, tractors, rototillers and myriads of home projects bore his indelible mark. His gardens were planned meticulously in January when his seed catalogues arrived, and his plans were meted out, row by organized row, in the spring. Lesâ€™ constant care brought home harvest after delicious harvest even into his last years as declining health literally brought him to his knees as he tended his beloved gardens. Les would crawl on his hands and knees, from one end to another, pulling weeds and cursing out the rabbits who tried to undo his hard work when his back was turned.
Outside of hearth and home, Les fed his love of baseball by forming a boysâ€™ baseball team in Elburn, working together with others to create two baseball diamonds. He gave freely of his labor and his gift for coaching, manning the helm of many a team. Later, Les would coach his daughterâ€™s softball team before leaving his beloved diamonds one last time.
Les began hunting when he was just a boy and continued to love hunting and fishing through his lifetime. Given the opportunity he would always choose to be outdoors. He spent countless hours tramping through cornfields and woodlands usually by himself. For a time, he was one of the younger members of the area Fox Hunters. They were a group of men who enjoyed the hunt traveling down roadways and through the fields seeking the elusive fox. It was during one of those excursions that Les acquired his nickname, “Swampy”.
His strength of character matched the power found in his hard-working hands, which still echoed the honest dirt and hard won callouses of his years of labor.
It was his grandchildren who became a part of his everyday life that helped fuel the remarkable spark that was uniquely his. Nothing made him happier than being surrounded by his family. All found a special place in his heart, including the devoted dogs who faithfully stayed by his side, marking the passage of time with every wag of their tail.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Karen Howard; two children: Sheila (Phillip) Albano and William “Bill” (Ginger Jones) Howard; two grandchildren: Nicholas and Katherine Albano; his nephew, Benjamin (Christina “C.J.”) Conley and their family: Andrew, Emma, Matthew and Michael; and his niece, Sarah (Becca) Conley and their family: Grace, Adelynn and Chaz; his sister-in-law, Kristine Conley; three step-brothers: Gordon (Betty) Koehling, Robert (Ann) Koehling and Erich Koehling, as well as a lifetime of friends.
He is preceded in death by his parents, William and Elsie Howard; three brothers: Norman, Donald and Robert Howard; his brother-in-law, Bruce H. Conley and his father and mother-in-law, Charles and Winifred Conley and both of his step- mothers, Chloe “Sally” Howard and Marie Howard.
Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m., Thursday, November 21, 2019, at Conley Funeral Home, 116 W. Pierce St., Elburn. A funeral to celebrate his life will begin at 10 a.m., November 22, also at the funeral home. Interment will follow at Blackberry Township Cemetery, Elburn.
In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established in Lesâ€™ name. Checks may be made to the “Leslie L. Howard Memorial” and mailed in care of P.O. Box 66, Elburn, 60119. Tributes may also be forwarded to the same address, the Conley Funeral Home Facebook Page, or at www.conleycare.com.
A funeral to celebrate his life will begin at 10 a.m., November 22, also at the funeral home.
Visitation will be from 3-8 p.m., Thursday, November 21, 2019, at Conley Funeral Home, 116 W. Pierce St., Elburn.
Interment will follow at Blackberry Township Cemetery, Elburn.