April 21, 1924 – June 12, 2020
Harriet Howard, 96, of Novato, CA, passed away on Friday, June 12, 2020, in Santa Rosa, with her family by her side. Mom was born at home in Jackson, MO, in 1924, to Edna Riley Mueller and Paul Mueller Sr. She had one older brother, Paul Mueller Jr., who was married to Marybelle Mueller.
Harriet grew up next door to her paternal grandmother, Ida Braas Mueller, and grandfather, Herman Mueller, who had a pretty hard upbringing. Her great-grandfather moved to SE Missouri from Germany because he didn’t want to fight in the Kaiser’s army and he’d heard they had good land for dairy farms, but it turned out not to be true and he went out into a field and committed suicide. His wife died soon after in childbirth, and since Herman was the oldest he had to portion his siblings out to the neighbors, as he wasn’t old enough to raise them.
That shaped him into a very directing adult, he wouldn’t let his sons choose their own careers. They worked with him at Mueller Brothers in the meat packing and meat smoking business, shipping smoked hams as far as Virginia. When that business closed, her dad had the meat department at Ideal Grocery in Jackson until he retired.
Her Grandma Mueller kept busy running a house with 9 kids, cooking, sewing, tatting, crocheting granny square afghans, and gardening in her conservatory. They kept a keg of beer in the basement and her grandma would sit down mid morning for a drink of beer, only to be asked “Mama can I have a schlep?” Mom said “by the time the kids had all had a schlep there wasn’t much left for her!” She also remembered her Aunt Rilla inhaling some kind of smoke on the basement steps for her asthma, “It smelled awful!” But they always had many relatives around for holidays, the big house was filled with lots of laughter, music and fun.
As a kid, Mom was constantly going next door in the mornings to read the funny papers, since her grandparents took the St. Louis paper. That was the start of a lifelong habit, reading at least two newspapers every morning. She was always up on the latest news.
Mom’s maternal grandparents Davis Beauregard Riley and Harriet Reeder lived in New Madrid, MO, another large family with 8 kids. As a little girl she loved visiting them during summers, and her cousins who lived in Lilbourn, MO. But the house in New Madrid scared her, particularly the attic, the owls hooting at night, and the river boats whistling at night along the Mississippi River.
Mom liked telling a Civil War story about her maternal grandfather, “Papa Riley”. “Being a southerner he had a little black baby assigned to him when he was born and they grew up together. They were walking along the road in New Madrid, probably around 6 years old, during the Civil War, when some Union soldiers came by and told them ‘You’d better git for home!’ because they knew there was going to be a battle.”
When asked where she was during Pearl Harbor, she’d been in high school and remembered listening to the Sunday news on the radio. Some of the boys went straight to enlist, didn't even finish high school. Uncle Paul was in college, and ate bananas to bulk up so he’d weigh enough to enlist. He wanted to be a pilot but his eye sight wasn’t good enough. He did get to fly missions in Africa and India.
Mom majored in music at Christian College and graduated in 1944, on D Day. She went on to Northwestern for her Junior and Senior years. She then began teaching music, for 2 years in Spokane, WA, then went back to Northwestern for 2 years to get her Masters in Music. She lived in the ZTA Sorority house, and talked about how they’d put on deep red lipstick for dinner to impress the male servers, to the dismay of whoever had to wash the cloth napkins.
During the 1947-48 school year, they brought back the WAA-MU Show, a big musical that Northwestern had produced every year until the war, when there hadn’t been enough men on campus. In 1948 they did a revue of favorite numbers from past shows and mom got to sing two of the solo numbers. She remembered the numbers going over well enough that she was mentioned in two of the Chicago papers’ reviews of the show. “That made me feel good.”
She loved visiting Flo (her best friend from college) in New York City on summer breaks, where they loved going to lots of Broadway shows with the big stars, she recounted Carol Channing singing Diiiiamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.
She bought her first car at 24 without asking her parents, because she needed it to get between the four schools she taught at in Spokane. It was during the Depression, so the Principal of one of her schools called up a car dealer and made sure mom got a car. Grandpa paid it off when she got back to Jackson, since he didn't like the idea of her paying interest. And she said then it was his car, but she got to use it as if it were hers.
Mom drove across country by herself, Missouri to Oregon, and Missouri to New Mexico, to get to her teaching jobs. She said she never worried about her safety, just got in the car and took off. She talked about her mom always loving to get in the car and go for a “Sunday drive.” Those Riley women didn’t like to sit still for long.
She taught music in Klamath Falls for 2 years, which is where she met dad, William Howard, on a blind date the day before he was to go back to the Air Force. They only dated about 6 times over 2-3 years before they decided to get married. By that time Dad was getting his masters at Berkeley, so they were married in the Episcopal chapel on Seminary Hill in Berkeley with her Uncle Horatio doing the honors. She also taught in Tucson, and when she first got the job, was dismayed to learn she had to be there in the heat of July. But she did manage to collect some beautiful Indian jewelry, going to museums to learn what was considered well made.
Mom taught music in Antioch while dad was at Berkeley. When they moved to Carmichael, she taught there for several years until she got pregnant. She always thought it was important to make sure kids had a well rounded education, and believed music was a large part of that. She volunteered once a week at our elementary school after music was cut from the curriculum.
When she was in high school she loved being in the marching band, then loved watching them march out their intricate patterns during half time tv football games. (You didn’t stand in front of the tv when football or basketball games were on.) In Novato, she taught piano for years, with countless kids giving recitals in our living room. She prioritized music in her life and was the organist and sang alto for the Novato Methodist Church choir, making friends for life with many of the congregation.
A stoic woman, Mom very rarely cried, so we specifically remember being in Chicken Delight one evening picking up dinner when the news of RFK’s assassination was televised, and mom breaking down. One of the only other times we can remember was when she started crying listening to a piece of Christmas music “because it was so beautiful.”
She was a member of the women’s philanthropic group P.E.O. beginning in 1951, and belonged to chapters in Klamath Falls, Tucson, Sacramento, and finally co-founding the Novato chapter in 1970. Three were new chapters she helped found, so she was in for almost 70 years. Or even longer if you count that her mother was a P.E.O. when mom was in the womb.
Mom was constantly working on improving herself, and attended weekly Group meetings where she made many dear, supportive friends and learned valuable tools for navigating situations in her life.
She loved her book club and always had her nose buried in a book, recommending titles to anyone who’d listen. A Gentleman in Moscow, Save Me the Plums, and The Overstory were a few of her recent favorites.
Mom was a card shark from her early years, when she ran home to complain to her mother after a game of Concentration “Grandma cheats!” Canasta on the porch in Jackson was a summer staple. She played poker for years, holding her own and celebrating often on Facebook after a win or coming in second. Her poker guys were so generous, moving the game to mom’s house after she wasn’t comfortable driving at night. They kept her supplied with her favorite ice cream flavors, but she still wouldn’t let them smoke pot on the patio, “What would the neighbors think!”
She loved being involved with her tap dancing group, helping with the costume sewing, bearing her legs in shows and best of all getting compliments. And she took pilates classes, staying fit well into her 90s.
Belonging to all these diverse groups of friends, having a reason to get up in the morning and get dressed and out of the house was surely what kept her going for 96 full years.
Harriet is survived by two children, Julia Howard (married to Erik Jefferts) and Anderson Howard (married to Maria Lee), and two grandchildren, Suzanne Howard (married to Charlie Carroll), and Joanne Howard (with Kyle Hauser). Harriet was predeceased by her husband William Howard in 2005.
Rest in peace, Mom, you SE Missouri-raised, applesauce-making, piano-teaching, canasta-playing, tap dancing, teetotaling (except for the occasional Harvey Wallbanger at Christmas), costume-sewing, pilates-exercising, democratic-voting, poker-sharking, scratch bread-baking, newspaper-devouring, coulotte-wearing, no nonsense, drive-like-hell, constantly evolving role model of a woman! Your presence in our world is greatly missed.
We were extraordinarily fortunate to have her as our mother and grandmother all these years. We are thankful for a lifetime of wonderful memories and will keep her close in our hearts forever.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
July 12, 2020
I always loved and appreciated Harriet, mostly for her consistency, commitment, calmness, open-mindedness and for demonstrating a positive willingness for calculated risks in poker and in finance. She had a knack for money collecting, budgeting and giving high interest loans. She was always calm and collected - our money and her interest. I learned from this and began to do some of it myself by watching her.
I also really appreciated how Harriet found her way on facebook at her age when I could never get my mom on and she is 10 years younger and won't touch technology. Harriet always commented on mhy posts and I will genuinely miss her presence in my life.
She was a true gem and so very generous in so many ways. Thank you for sharing her life with us and wishing the whole family blessings, prayers and the sweet sound of her voice and piano in this great big planetary place which includes heaven and earth. Hi - Ho Harriet in a Happy and Heavenly Haven for sure! I will always remember you. Bonnie Nixon
July 12, 2020
I join the dance company with one class, because it look like they were having fun and I need to overcome my stage fright. I signed up for tap dancing not knowing what I was getting myself involved with and went ahead with the classes. The first show was in Cowell theater, San Francisco. While the other numbers were going on and I decided to rehearse. Well I was rehearsing on hollow plywood platform and it was very loud. After a point Harriet came up to me and said that I needed to stop because I was driving everybody crazy and if I didn’t know it now I probably wouldn’t know it. And the point was to have fun so just focus on that. At the time, I thought, have fun!, Are you kidding me? In hindsight though I realized that Harriet was direct, clear, kind and loving. That’s how I remember Harriet!
July 12, 2020
Harriet (April 2014) and a Pilates friend older than her!
I am blessed to have worked with her. I always told her I wanted to be like her when I grew up!
RIP, sweet lady! Xoxox