He was raised in the city by his father, who worked for Western Electric, and his mother, the daughter of the mayor of Oak Park. His father was a man who, Howard says, didn’t believe in owning anything. “We lived in an apartment because he didn’t want to own a house,” he said. “We traveled by streetcar because he didn’t want to own a car.”
Howard attended a public school in Chicago which provided him with an excellent education. When he was old enough, he worked as a delivery boy and a butcher’s boy in his spare time, because, unlike his father, he did want a car.
Howard met his wife, Marilyn, in a class in high school.
“She was one of the only two girls in the slide rule class,” he said. “Her partner dropped out of it, so one day I just walked over and asked her if the other seat at the table was taken. Of course, it wasn’t. And that was the start of it.”
And so began his 50-year long relationship with his wife. They both attended college, Howard for Engineering, Marilyn for Education and Mathematics.
“Marilyn loves math,” he explained. “To this day I haven’t balanced our checkbook. I don’t know what I would do without her,”
Unless he is discussing his career, everything is “us,” “we,” or “Marilyn and I.” They are both still very much in love.
After completing a three-year work-study program in engineering at Northwestern University in Chicago, Howard continued his education at Purdue, graduating with his MBA in 1964. He worked for Proctor & Gamble, and then moved on to become a division president for Keene Corporation. In 1979 he become an operations manager for Littlefuse, Inc., a company that makes fuses. After becoming president and CEO of the company in 1990, he ushered Littlefuse through a tough post-acquisition bankruptcy, and eventual independence. In 1993 he became chairman, president and CEO of the company, a position he held until 2004.
Howard and Marilyn have four children, two sons and two daughters. Both sons followed in their father’s footsteps and went to school for degrees in engineering, though each took their knowledge in radically different directions. Randy is a private pilot and software entrepreneur in Kansas City. Ryan is in sales for a tech firm and lives with his family near Colorado Springs. Ashley is the only one of the four to stay in Chicago. She has a degree in special education and plans to go into teaching. Lauren studied culinary arts and has a business selling seasoning and spice mixes to restaurants in the Springfield, Miss. area.
Between their four children, Howard and Marilyn have eight grandchildren, who they occasionally entertain in Boca Grande or in Chicago.
“It’s a scramble to figure out what we need to do to make the house safe for the kids,” he said.
He smiled, thinking of them, and said, “We’re trying to figure out what things we need to move out of their reach, and what needs to be put away before they get here.”
Howard and Marilyn took their time coming to Florida, and Gasparilla Island in particular. Howard traveled to Mexico for years with work, and when he started planning his retirement the couple moved to Corpus Christie.
“It didn’t take us long to realize that the weather there didn’t agree with us,” Howard remembered. “It is hot and humid so late into the year.”
They continued their search on Longboat Key. They spent three years looking for a house in the area, while Howard continued to prepare for retirement. A friend suggested that they look at Gasparilla Island and in 2002 - two years before Howard retired - they bought into Seawatch.
“After we lived there for a while, my wife uttered those words that send chills through a person,” he said. “She said, ‘We have to talk’.”
The result of that talk is their home on Shore Lane.
“Growing up in Chicago, I saw a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. To be honest, a lot of what drew us to this house is the Prairie style. The straight lines, the flat roof, we really fell in love with it. The architect, who is from Sarasota, took a lot of inspiration from Wright,” Howard said. “But I have to warn you, don’t buy a house somewhere at the same time we do. We bought a house in Texas right before hurricane Gilbert went through, and we bought this one just in time for Hurricane Charley. This one stood up pretty well since it’s poured concrete and stucco.”
Over the next several years, Howard and Marilyn made repairs to and remodeled their home.
“We’re finally getting to the end of it now,” Howard explained.
Art by local artists hangs on the walls, and a metal sculpture found in Boca Bargains decorates a corner of the living room.
“A friend of ours saw it there, and he told us that it would be perfect for our house. So of course we went down to look at it, and it came home with us.”
An interesting and unexpected outside touch is the woodpecker deterrent system. At first the parallel strands of fishing line that stretch up the outside of the spiral entry stairway look like another art installation, but as Howard explained, “When they were selling the house, before we bought it, the agent thought it was a distraction from the lines of the house. Not too long after we moved in, I heard a woodpecker and went looking. He was chiseling away at the side of the house. Within a few hours, there was a hold about two inches across. And this is cypress, it’s pretty tough!”
A local contractor who had dealt with the same issue on other houses let them in on the secret.
While Howard and Marilyn still have a condo in the city center of Chicago, they consider themselves Florida residents.
“We’re in Florida from around Christmas to Easter, but we spend so much time traveling around that we spend a lot less than six months a year in Chicago,” he explained.
Beyond his global travel as CEO of Littlefuse, Howard and Marilyn traveled to Yugoslavia in Eastern Europe. They made their first trip in 1985, when the country was still under socialist rule.
“Marilyn’s father was Czech, and her mother was from Slovenia, which was part of Yugoslavia at the time, so she has a lot of family in that part of the world,” he said.
Howard and Marilyn have become very involved in the Boca Grande community since moving here.
“I love the fact that even though this is mostly a community of people who are retired, there is so much to do,” he said. “We can enjoy the calm and peace of the beach, and later the same day go see a presentation, or an art show, or spend time with our friends over dinner at a great restaurant. The restaurants here are wonderful.”
Last year, they helped with the Strawberry Festival for the Methodist Church.
“We helped set up the live auction,” he said. “It was a lot of work, but I think we did a good job.”
They are also members of the Boca Grande Art Alliance. While neither of them is an artist, they appreciate those who are and their work. This year, their house is on the fundraising tour that the Alliance is conducting.
“We’re going to be showing an outdoor sculpture, a contemporary, stainless steel piece,” he said. “Of course, it is arriving the day before the show. It’s all about timing.”
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