Forever curious. Eternally optimistic. A human monument to stability. That wide smile that seemed to go on for miles. And always excited and involved when it came to his children, his grandchildren, his Christian faith, his many friends from every walk of life and especially his beloved Dorie. Those are just a few attributes to describe our dad, granddad, great-granddad and, to everyone he came to know, their loyal friend.
Between hand cranking homemade vanilla ice cream in a circa 1960 ice cream maker in his backyard and nobody remembering him ever uttering a single profanity, Howard Erickson came from a place and world that time forgot.
Born to Alice Olson Erickson and Ben Erickson in Kingsburg, CA, on July 25, 1928, Howard grew up in a small farming community 20 miles south of Fresno. Kingsburg was more than 90 percent Swedish-American in the 1920s and 1930s and Howard learned many values from that close knit community. The virtues of hard work, humility, trustworthiness, and the Swedish community's core beliefs of faith and family.
Howard attended school in Kingsburg and graduated from High School in 1946. He enjoyed his High School days and lettered in football, basketball and baseball, was active in student government, music and social activities but as he admitted later academics were not at the top of his priority list then.
He next attended junior college in Reedley and got serious about school in preparation for transfer to the University of California, Berkeley. He continued his athletic career and excelled on the baseball team for two years.
While attending Cal he began dating Doris Backlund a striking, incredibly kind young woman from Berkeley he had seen from afar the previous summer on a visit to the Hume Lake Christian Camp. His older brother Roger pointed her out as one of the Backlund sisters from Lakeside Baptist Church in Oakland and he remembered that young woman when he got to Berkeley. Howard saw her again at Church and asked her out and soon they were a couple.
In 1950, Howard graduated with a degree from Cal Business School, and Howard and Dorie married and began a 62-year loving and loyal partnership that included four children and a lifetime of memories. It's not a stretch to say their relationship was too sweet, supportive and real to believe if it weren't genuinely true.
His first job out of college was working in accounting for the Del Monte Corp. in San Francisco. Soon after he was drafted during the Korean War, serving Stateside with the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953.
After the war, he decided to change occupations and earned his teaching credential from Fresno State University in 1954, and his M.A. from San Francisco State University in 1957. He taught at McKinley Elementary School in San Leandro for five years and San Jose High School for a year before beginning his career in School Administration and making the permanent move to Napa.
He started with the Napa County Office of Education on March 1, 1960, and five years later when the community voted to consolidate districts Howard became the first employee of the Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD). He served as Director of Business Services for 11 years before being promoted to Deputy Superintendent in 1976. Howard was renowned as an expert in school finance and was honored with a Joint Resolution from the California State Senate and Assembly for his service when he retired in 1989.
If anyone wondered why Howard was so optimistic and always saw the good in people and life, they should look no further than his unending faith, a faith that was often tested but never broken. He was an active, engaged member of all the churches he attended and deeply believed God was leading him throughout his life.
When they came to Napa, Dorie and Howard joined the barely year-old Grace Baptist Church which was then located downtown across from the Napa Register building. Eleven years later, Howard had helped raise enough funds for the church to purchase property for their new sanctuary on Solano Avenue which opened in 1971. Deacon, Elder, Sunday School teacher, chairman of various budget and finance committees. You name it, Howard did it for Grace Baptist as the church grew and positively impacted the community. When he began attending Napa Valley Baptist Church on Trower Avenue in 2000, Howard continued to serve in a variety of leadership positions.
Listing all of Howard's civic, professional and athletic accomplishments could take, well, 95 years. So let's begin by acknowledging that he piled up awards and achievements like hotcakes at a Rotary Club breakfast.
- 40-year member of the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army.
- President and Past President of, yes, the Napa Rotary Club.
- President of the California School Business Official Organization (CASBO).
- Member of the Napa senior tennis team which won second place in the National Team Tennis Championships and an active tennis player into his 80s.
Ninety-four years and 362 days is a long life and yet, Howard never seemed, well, old. Yes, he had deep creases in his forehead that could have doubled as a county map. And he seemed to have emerged from the womb with those gold, wire-rimmed spectacles. But he never lost his hair, the gleam in his eyes, his boyish exuberance or his absolute hope and zest for life.
For all he saw and lived through, for all his professional and personal achievement, he will be most remembered for his faithful love and commitment to his wife and family, his ongoing interest and curiosity in those around him and, of course, his love for chocolate cake and his famous homemade vanilla ice cream!
Howard passed peacefully at 8:20 PM Saturday night, July 22, 2023. He was preceded in death by Dorie in 2013; and his first-born son, Tim in 2016. He is survived by his brother, Dennis (Barbara) of San Francisco; his sons: Jeff (Cathy) and Tom Erickson of Napa; and daughter, Linda Mabe (Keven) of Star, ID; four grandchildren: Bryan Richmond (Brianne) of Napa, Lindsay Ralston (Jim) of Meridian, ID, Kyle Mabe (Lauren) of Irvine, and Scott Erickson of San Diego; and six great-grandchildren: Owen, Asher and Ellis Richmond, Brooks and Bentley Ralston. His first great-granddaughter, Linnea Mabe, was born to Kyle and Lauren just hours before Howard passed, but in time for her great-grandfather to see her picture and be part of the celebration of her birth.
The family would like to thank A Partner in Caring and especially Jim Santos for the special care they provided Dad over the past year and a half.
We extend our gratitude as well to the men in Dad's "Coffee Group" who he met with at the Golden Bagel for as long as he could go out and who came and visited with him at the home in his final months.
Thanks also to family friend and writer Mike Wise for his assistance in writing and editing these words many of which come from Dad's own notes.
Friends and family are invited to attend the Memorial Service 11:00 AM, Saturday, September 16, 2023, at Napa Valley Life Church, 2303 Trower Avenue, Napa.