By Aaron Allen
The Seattle Medium

The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.

Imagine it is a Friday night, school is done for the week, you’re putting on your best outfit and you walk five miles for a date. And remember you’re still going to have to walk back home.

As a teenager, Ted Howard, Sr., a retired educator for the Seattle Public Schools, courted his wife of 57 years, Cora, by walking five miles and back just to go on a date. Now if that is not expressing one’s love for another, then I don’t know what is.

Howard Sr. derived his value system from what he learned in his early years growing up with his grandparents Robert Lamb and Mary Wiley-Lamb, and his mother, Freddie Wiley. Those values were education, hard work and leaving a legacy for the next generation.

“It was important for me to leave something to my children,” said Howard. “Growing up, the first thing I witnessed is how hard people had to work. Rent was $85 a month, so I went out and worked every day to help my family pay rent and, at the most, earning 75 cents a job. That was a long way from $85, I thought. But my refuge from work was school. I loved going to school.”

Education is the key to everything in the eyes and mind of Howard. Through all of his experiences — the Jim Crow South, the Vietnam War, poverty — one thing that remained constant in his train of thought was getting an education. For Howard, his love of learning and educating others were the cornerstones to building a better life.

“The most important value I wanted to pass down to my children and family members was how important education is,” says Howard. “If you are going to live in my house, you have to go to school and become the best you can be.”

“All of my family, including my wife, have gone onto college,” says Howard. “My kids, my sister, my twin brothers and [my] other brother have all gotten their degrees and built better lives for themselves.”

For his son, Ted Howard, Jr., who is also an educator, getting a college degree was not an option; it was a mandate. According to the younger Howard, his father made sure that all of his children took advantage of their educational opportunities.

“We were set up in a way that everybody in our family had to get a degree,” says Howard, Jr. “With seven kids and big family making sure we all stayed out of jail, making sure we all went to school, making sure we all put God first was no small feat.”

Growing up on a small farm in Texas, Howard learned the value of hard work at an early age. “You don’t work, you don’t eat” was the message, and Howard took that message to heart. From early mornings rounding up and feeding cows, hogs and fowl, to walking from neighbor to neighbor asking if they needed anything done around their houses, to working in the meat department of Piggly Wiggly, Howard did all that was offered to him to help pay the rent. 

Even with the burden of working, when entering into high school, Howard maintained high grades and became a highly touted football player at Dunbar High School in Lufkin, Texas, and earned a full ride scholarship to Jarvis Christian College.

In 1959, Howard began his freshman year in college, but in 1960, he had to volunteer or be drafted into the military just as the Korean War was ending and the Vietnam War was in its infancy. 

“I had two choices,” recalls Howard. “Two years in the Army or four years in the Navy. The Navy said we would be able to travel the world, and there was the GI bill, so I thought two years compared to four, but the traveling and the GI bill allowing me to go to college, I went into the Navy.”

After completing his tour of duty with the Navy in 1966, Howard and his high school sweetheart/wife moved to Seattle along with the oldest of their seven children to work for Boeing. Two years later, Howard decided to take advantage of the GI bill to finance his education. Howard went on to earn an AA from Seattle Central Community College, a BA from the University of Washington and a master’s degree from Seattle University. 

After hearing that his mother had taken ill, Howard moved his mother and his younger siblings to Seattle to care for her. 

“My mother got sick, and her doctor told her she was dying,” said Howard. “I moved her, along with my younger brothers and sister, to Seattle, where they lived with me and my wife and children. At one time, I think we had about 12 people living under my roof. And after getting insurance and care for my mother, we learned that she had been misdiagnosed and wasn’t dying, after all.” 

Howard Jr. remembers the stories of the journey and how his father’s leadership propelled his family into a better life.

“My dad’s brothers, sister, mother, they all came to Seattle, leaving Lufkin, Texas, for a better life,” says Howard Jr. “My dad is the oldest, and he continued to lead in that role and capacity even after he came to Seattle.”

Because of his love of learning Howard discovered the keys to leveraging money and investments. Once he understood the concepts, he jumped at the opportunity of learning more and putting into practice his knowledge of generating money with money, and it changed the way he looked at the future.

“The first thing I learned as child was watching my grandfather negotiate with white people,” says Howard. “I was like six years old, and, back then, the South was really racist. We would pack white potatoes and brown potatoes and take them to the market. Every time we would negotiate, we always negotiated down, never negotiated up. They [the white people] would walk away from Grandfather sometimes like they didn’t want it [as a ploy], and my grandfather would end up selling [the items] for a little bit of nothing. 

“When I was introduced to different ways of making money, I took that knowledge and applied it to my life,” says Howard. “From tax shelters to real estate, I learned and worked towards taking care of my family and leaving a financial legacy.”

“Our family held what we call ‘family meetings,’” said Howard. “Every month, we have a family meeting where we discuss the future of the family. The men in the family put a percentage of their earnings in a pot that we save for future family endeavors.”

Despite the family having significant holdings that include both real estate and other investments, Howard says that the family is still trying to get all of the kids to buy into the concept. But the results speak for themselves, and the reluctance of a few has not stopped the family from holding its monthly meetings. 

“Seattle has been good to me and my family,” admitted Howard with a grin.

Family is important to the Howards, and taking care of family has always been a priority for Ted Howard, Sr. At one point, Howard had 12 souls living under his roof, and his family tree in Seattle has grown to over 100, including 17 grandchildren. Despite all of his accomplishments in life, and there are many, Howard is most proud of the fact that his family members, young and old, have embraced the same basic principles of education and creating better opportunities for themselves and their families that were passed along to him.

“Education is what I pass down to my children,” said Howard. “I used to tell my kids that you would never see a person with degree walking around talking about he can’t find a job. Get your education out the way, and then you start looking around for what can you do to change the world.”