By LANCE MASTERSON
Of the Keizertimes
Jerry Howard stayed true to his passion. And the end result is a baseball career that is closing in on 60 years.
“I’ve always enjoyed it. I needed to find some niche in life that I could do,” said Howard of his career choice.
The young Howard – who is now the senior marketing executive for the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes – didn’t have it easy as a youngster. While not exactly in foster care, he wasn’t far from it; as he lived with several different families as a youngster.
“Going to school and athletics was something I could hang my hat on,” he said. “It drove me. I didn’t really want to go home because I didn’t have a true home. So I always wanted to be at school, or at the football field, or the gymnasium, or the baseball field, or somewhere.”
The Cottage Grove High School graduate also ran track and played summer baseball. But that all changed when he joined the U.S. Air Force out of high school.
Howard went through basic training in San Antonio, Texas. He was then stationed 80 miles north of San Antonio on former president Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch. Howard remained stationed at the ranch for the five years he spent in the military.
“My first two years, from ‘61 to ‘63, (Johnson) was actually vice president, you know, and then, following the incident in ‘63, he became president. And so it got a little more intense on the ranch.”
The “incident” was the assassination of former president John F. Kennedy.
Howard’s duties included driving the Johnson family – Lyndon, First Lady Lady Bird and daughters Luci and Lynda – around the ranch. He also drove the president’s brother, Sam Houston Johnson, to and from the Elks Lodge, picked up mail and barbecued.
The ranch is 60 miles from the capitol city of Austin and the airman transported dignitaries as well.
Despite the proximity to the president and his family, Howard never lost sight of his purpose
“You see the president when he’s at home all the time, and his family. But it’s very militaristic still. Even though you’re on the ranch, you’re still in the military. It’s not much more than ‘yes, sir,’ ‘no, sir,’ ‘good morning, sir,’ unless he strikes up a conversation, or if Lady Bird does, or if one of the daughters do,” said Howard. “We had a job to do out there, and it was really no different than being on a military base. It just happened to be at his ranch.”
Eventually, Howard had to decide between the military and baseball.
“I came to that fork in the road. As the famous Yogi Berra said: “When you come to that fork in the road, take it,” said Howard. “… I wrestled with the decision. It finally came down to the fact that I wanted to come back home to Oregon to start my education at the University of Oregon and to get into baseball in some capacity, which I did by starting my umpire career.”
But Howard never lost his respect for the military. Which is why Patriotic Day – scheduled for Sunday, July 4 – is the premiere special attraction on the Volcanoes’ regular-season calendar.
Planning for this year’s event began 10 months ago. Gates open at 5:15 p.m. with a pre-game concert at 5:40 p.m.. The pre-game ceremony starts at 6:30 p.m. and the first pitch against the Vancouver Canadians is at 7:15 p.m.
More than 20 honored guests and more than 15 organizations had been confirmed as of Tuesday, June 15.
Howard said it’s been a labor of love.
“I so appreciate the military and I’m thankful and I want to salute them,” he added.
Call Howard at 503-779-4088 for more information.