Tributes to Les Howard from Whittier Community Members

Tributes to Les Howard from Whittier Community Members

“My memory of Les Howard was that he sat in as a student in a class called Anthropology of the Built Environment.  He would always show up to class and have done the reading intently while prepared to listen to the lecture.  There were only four other students or so in the class; that didn’t matter.  He was 30+ years older than the professor teaching but he was like a kid in a playground of knowledge, similar to the rest of us, learning about the world. He expressed very strong interested and fascination about the lecture and the topic even though he has taught classes.  He is the true definition of a life lived as an educator and a student synonymously, with a passion to never stop learning no matter what.”


Andy Bertelsen



“To me, Les embodied so many of the things I associate with Whittier College. He had a keen intellect, boundless curiosity, warm collegiality, passionate dedication to students, and compassion for the vulnerable. But what I will remember most about Les is not related to the College. Instead, I will remember how, every time I went with my family to an event like a community gathering in Uptown or an important public meeting, he’d be there. Whether it was the Peace and Justice Collation booth at a festival or walking with the crowd from First Day in the Holiday Parade, Les was a part of it. My young son came to recognize him and point him out in the crowd. Les was a great example to us all of engaged living and life long learning. I really miss him.”


Kristin Wiberg

 Executive Assistant to the President of Whittier College


Professor Les Howard ’62 was one of the most significant ethical voices of the College during his career at Whittier.  When he spoke, I knew that he would call on us to do the right thing.  He was a devoted Poet, and dedicated much of his life to educating other Poets.  In his death, he has left a significant legacy both as a role model and through a generous commitment to donate the majority of his estate to establish the C. Wright Mills Chair in Sociology at Whittier.  C. Wright Mills was an American sociologist who advocated public and political engagement over disinterested observation, a philosophy that influenced Les early in his career and one that he embraced throughout.  We expect to name the Chair holder in time for the fall of 2018. 


Sharon Herzberger

 President of Whittier College



What do we learn from a life? (Eulogy from his memorial service)


We learn to value relationships and to nurture the connections between people. Look all around you here and notice all the different people Les has brought together again— people who might otherwise have remained strangers if not for something Les often said that probably most of us who knew him heard at least once after he took us aside and looked meaningfully into our eyes: “You two need to know each other” (can’t you just see him doing that here, right now? I mean, what a perfect occasion to have perfect strangers become friends!)

Les was always trying to connect people to get them to know each other better and to share ideas that mattered. He did this during his office hours, when everyone piled into his office for what appeared to be impromptu group advising and mentoring sessions and no one ever sat outside waiting to enter the conversation.

He did this in the classroom, cleverly and deliberately putting together students who may have regarded each other with at least some distrust if not actual antipathy, forcing them to confront each other’s humanity through a serious exchange of ideas and experiences.

And he did this out in the community, bringing students to meet organizers and officials in their offices and in the streets so that students could actually begin to experience the world they learned about in the classroom.

Les was a “high impact” teacher way before it became the latest buzz in higher ed. His January Term Workshop in Urban Studies year after year brought students to Tijuana and Los Angeles and left them transformed. The research methods course he taught with our dear friend, Claudia, included community partners that, in many cases, became and continue to be formative places for our students. But, he was a master of “experiential learning,” only because he knew that all the best learning happens in relationships with others. He was a sociologist through and through whose teaching and mentoring will leave a lasting legacy in the department he nurtured for so many years.

Lastly, but most importantly, we learn to have ethical commitments to each other before all else; that the measure of a good life well lived is found in the quality of our care for others; that an entire life can actually be summed up in one simple word that so many of

Les’s students and colleagues and friends felt: Love. We will miss you, my friend.


Rebecca Overmyer-Velázquez Associate Professor of Sociology with contributions from Julie Collins-Dogrul Associate Professor of Sociology and Sal Johnston Associate Professor of Sociology


“As we think about the Les Howard we know, some of those memories are entirely personal, but most belong to all of us. As I thought about why this might be, I realized that Les may be, of all the people I have known, the most consistent and principled — the person, in other words, with the most integrity.

We each do have our own Leses, of course.

My own personal Les shared my passion for berries with breakfast. The one gift I ever gave him was a hand-made ceramic colander. And almost every time I saw him in later years, he would tell me how much he enjoyed rinsing his blackberries every morning. We also shared a passion for vegetable salads as summer-night meals, the more crunchy ingredients the better.

More significantly, my own personal Les also shared a formative part of my background — when we both attended progressive Presbyterian youth groups during the Civil Rights ‘60s. We were always pretty sure we’d sung “Kumbaya” and “We Shall Overcome” together — arms crossed and hands clasped — along with thousands of other young people who’d arrived by bus from all over the Los Angeles basin. Les ended up (like my hero John Milton) outside the church community. But he never lost his passionate, uncompromising commitment to justice and peace. And he pulled off something remarkable with that consistency: his passion was so genuine that Les remained super cool, even as we went through ages of ironic detachment. Caring not a whit, he was always beloved by students, always completely in style and in season.

Les’s roots ran deep. And if I had a special glimpse into their earliest soil (before Whittier College, before Harvard, before the long sojourns in Mexico and Canada), all of us knew the stupendous oak of a man who grew from those roots. 

All of us also remember Les for his cosmopolitanism, his global outlook, his incredible gift for both analysis and expression, and his utter delight in conversation. Every human contact for Les was a conversation — even when many of us would call it a confrontation or an argument, when many of us would walk away in despair or disgust. 

Now Les could get hot under the collar. But he never gave up on people, or on the hope of dialogue with them, no matter how distant their positions or values. I was in Tijuana visiting Les when the Times ran the story of Robert McNamara’s apology for the Vietnam War. We sat on the sofa in Les’s funky urban apartment reading the story aloud. And as we read, Les’s eyes welled up — mainly, of course, for the Greek tragedy of Vietnam, but also for the tragedy of a man who had grown big enough to admit the most tragic of errors. 

This complexity of vision seems almost alien now in our zero-tolerance, no-second-chances culture. But we need it more than ever — this clear-eyed but determined refusal of cynicism, this willingness to keep the door open — and Les embodied it like few people I know. If you were human, he was open to you. That is a very big deal.

I hope Les is among us as I write this. In any case, I’m pretty sure how he would want us to honor him: by constantly building, and repairing, a community ­— one committed to inclusion and justice and consensus — a community where everyone could flourish, and not one person would feel left out. To affirm our Quaker heritage is to affirm our commitment to Les Howard — one of the greatest Friends (with a capital F) Whittier College has ever known. We’ll never be the same without him. But it’s incumbent on us to do our best.”


Wendy Furman-Adams

Albert Upton Professor of English


“During my 23 years here at the college there was never a time when I would encounter Les, that he didn’t take the time to simply say hello or engage in a conversation. It didn’t matter if we were in Uptown, a Shannon Center event, or enjoying lunch in the Campus Inn. He had a calming presence and took a real interest in one’s conversations.  He always made it a point to ask about my grandchildren and how things were going in the Business Office.   He loved sharing his course experiences and teachings. But above all he was committed to, loved, and was a great advocate for his students.  He often came to or accompanied a student to speak with me.  He wanted to learn how he could help direct a student on what action needed to be taken, so that the student would be able to register and succeed at the college. I will miss my friend, his passion for life, his charming hat and above all his calming presence.   Thank you Les for extending your heartfelt friendship when I first arrived at the college.  Your acceptance of people who have crossed your path was a true treasure!”    


Gloria Ruelas

Student Accounts Manager at the Business Office


“Many of us know Les as a gifted teacher, a caring mentor, a thoughtful and supportive colleague, and a keystone of the college and broader Whittier communities.  I was privileged to know Les in all those ways.  Teaching with Les in pair courses and working alongside him in Community W, an original living-learning community, were absolute highlights of my professional career.  But a special picture of Les that’s often with me these days is one from my early days at Whittier. Soon after I came to the College in ‘91, Les began inviting me to breakfast once or twice a week.  One of his favorite places back then was Rick’s. What he loved about Rick’s was the wonderful assortment of regulars.  Women and men who lived on the street, city officials, an itinerant fundamentalist preacher, a few local social workers, a guy who taught judo and hunted turkeys with a bow, a TV repairman who never had any business, and many more mixed on Rick’s patio.  I see Les schmoozing with all the regulars: inquiring, listening, and talking, curious and caring about each one’s life story, experiences, latest triumphs and trials.  And often, too, I see him offering a suggestion or a connection to help someone move toward a goal.  This picture remains with me as the essential Les Howard, the man deeply interested in and compassionately concerned about humanity in all its manifestations.  That’s the Les I’m most remembering and missing.”


Don Bremme

Professor Emeritus of Education