Dave recently issued a challenge to several of his family members, including me, to think and write about people who have influenced our lives in a special way. The first "gem" I'd like to write about is Danny Howell, who served as the YPSM at the Wilkes-Barre, PA corps for many years.
I first met Danny when he and his family moved into the Wilkes-Barre area from Yonkers, NY. I was 7 or 8 years old at the time. My earliest memory of Danny is of him helping his wife, Shirley, teach our junior soldier class on Sunday mornings in the basement of the old (pre-1970) hall. Danny and Shirley were probably in their late 20s - early 30s at the time.
Danny was a friendly, down-to-earth guy with a good sense of humor. He was also a pretty good softball player who played third base on the men's club team for many years. He was unbelievably humble and never sought to be in the spotlight. My father had to practically beg him to become the YPSM and to teach the teen Sunday school class. When he finally took on those roles, he did outstanding jobs in both of them.
Danny never seemed to be aware of his outstanding qualities and abilities. One of his more interesting characteristics was that he played the piano beautifully. He played completely by ear and had no clue what he was doing. He couldn't tell one note from the next on the keyboard, but he could pick up any tune and play it flawlessly, even adding impressive arpeggios and flourishes. There is no way to explain this phenomenon except to say that it was a God-given gift. Danny served as the corps pianist for years.
Danny was also a great encourager. He always encouraged the young people in the corps to develop whatever talents we had. He frequently spoke warmly and supportively about my budding abilities as a pianist. An important quality that went along with this is that Danny accepted people unconditionally. Even when they got into difficult situations, Danny never condemned them or rejected them. He continued to support and uplift them.
Eventually, Danny became the CSM at Wilkes-Barre. By that time, I had grown up and moved on in my life. The last time I saw Danny was at my father's funeral, where he served as one of the pallbearers. I know Dad would have been honored by Danny's participation in that role.
Danny died recently, but memories of his quiet, humble faith live on in the hearts and lives of the many people he touched. There is no question that Danny was truly a gem to many.