An event to honor Warwick Beacon editor-in-chief and publisher John Howell drew hundreds to the gymnasium at Bishop Hendricken last Thursday night and raised more than $52,000 for MENTOR Rhode Island, a nonprofit organization that strives to provide kids in Rhode Island with effective role models and mentoring services.
The John Howell Tribute included more than ten food and drink vendors, an auction fundraiser with special guest auctioneer Mario Hilario and an array of guests including former governor Lincoln Chafee, Mayor Scott Avedisian, Mayor of Cranston Allan Fung, Representative Jim Langevin and a group of local legislators.
Guests were treated to party favors that included a coffee mug, complete with a Charlie Hall comic strip of John and his canine companion, Ollie, as well as the Beacon special edition of year – a 16-page edition featuring rare photos of John, memories and testimonials from some of his closest friends and coworkers and stories from MENTOR Rhode Island that showcase their importance within the Rhode Island community and, by extension, John’s importance to thousands of children across the state.
John’s son, Ted, took to the podium to share unique insight about what it was like having John as a father. Things like never really being able to get somewhere on time because he’d run into somebody he knew, or somebody he just met who he had to get to know. Things like having moments from your family outings wind up in his “This Side Up” column, perhaps with some differing opinions on how things actually went down.
However, shining throughout the entire speech was Ted’s obvious admiration and respect for his father, which was felt throughout the large gathering in the audience in front of him.
“He really taught us that there’s nothing more important than people. He loves people,” Ted said. “His questions never had ulterior motives. He wasn’t trying to seem to get something out of those people. He never had an agenda. He just wanted to understand the people and was interested in the people. He taught us all by example respect for people, no matter who they were – it could be Captain Fredy, it could be the mayor, it could be the president.”
Ted talked about how John would always pull him and his siblings out of their comfort zones and get them into situations they might otherwise try to avoid.
“I think he did this because he has such a strong belief in the goodness of human nature and, to his credit, even in the worst of situations, he always draws it out,” said Ted.
John received the Peter Koch Memorial Award – named in honor of the late Peter Koch, who apart from being the CEO of Koch Eye Associates in Warwick was also a dedicated mentor back when MENTOR Rhode Island was known as the Rhode Island Mentoring Partnership – for his continued and unfaltering commitment to helping the mentoring program grow and succeed. Hilario and MENTOR Rhode Island President and CEO, Jo-Ann Schofield, presented the award.
“Without John's vision and without his initial belief in the possibilities of this organization, we would not exist,” Schofield said on Monday.
One of the mentees who has benefited from MENTOR Rhode Island, a freshman at Toll Gate, Zach Champlin, shared how he gained invaluable confidence from his mentor and how he plans on being a mentor when he gets older. He would later help handing out glow sticks to people who donated during a rapid fire fundraising auction.
Howell himself took to the stage to share the story of MENTOR Rhode Island, from efforts to raise enough money to purchase a headquarters for the organization’s humble beginnings to its present day position as a unifying force for 50 mentoring programs across the state that oversees over 5,000 mentees, including one-to-one school-based mentoring programs in Warwick, Woonsocket, Newport, Middletown, Cranston, Providence and Pawtucket.
“What I find remarkable about this community is how many of you are willing to go out on a limb – whether it is an investment of time, talent or treasury – to bring change,” said Howell.
Howell thanked the many sponsors who raised money and the individuals who helped orchestrate the surprise event.
After personally meeting with just about everyone throughout the night – to a point that Howell said after the event that he didn’t even get a chance to eat at his own tribute event – it was obvious that the Warwick resident and unparalleled, old-school news man was touched by the outpouring of support, even though this time it was him, and not his kids, who perhaps felt a little out of his element.
“You have left me feeling...naked. I’ll tell you why. I don’t have a camera. I don’t have a pad and I don’t have a pen,” Howell said. “No worry. In this community, there’s always a good story. I know I’ll find it. Thank you.”