My first contact with state-patrolman Mike Howes involved a traffic stop back in 1981. I had just purchased a lodge down on Big Stone Lake, and the 5 p.m. coffee gang had invited themselves down to South Dakota to bless the place with all the appropriate rituals.
So a van loaded with five prominent Wahpetonians headed south for the christening.
The designated driver was none other than the CEO of Loll Automotive — a big man noted for his sobriety and the good grip he had on careful driving. Among the others were the retired Superintendent of Wheaton High School, Walt Nosek, (RIP) a well-known fiddler and spouse of Norma Nosek of Bagg Farm fame. Also along was a prominent home cleaning executive who liked being addressed as Mr., and State Farm’s finest cracked salesman — just lately retired with full benefits. Judge Haugen wanted to come along, but he was bench-pressed with a full docket.
As we motored south on 127, one of the passengers opened an adult beverage, as did some of the others. Instantly, the atmosphere on board became rife with jovial bravado and repartee. Then suddenly there was a whine, and someone turned on the bubble machine. We stopped and our driver sheepishly greeted the hall, handsome, state trooper standing by his window. “I didn’t think we were speeding,” smiled our driver with a sheepish blush.
“You weren’t, but you'd better get up to speed. Diving that slow forces everyone else to have to pass you, and that can create problems. You were creeping so slowly, I thought you might need help.”
Then Trooper Howes scanned the rest of us, noting that we all looked like a bunch of cats with canary feathers stuck in our chops. I know he caught wind of the fumes we were emitting, but he gave us a knowing look and said, “Well, you boys look harmless enough, but you’d better put a cork on it. The boys down in So. Dak. can get pretty gung ho.” And so he smiled, and waved us on. And five red-handed perps finally exhaled, and, thanks to a wise trooper who under the “spirit of the law,” continued happily on our way.
The next time i would see Mike was at Harvest Church which we had recently joined because it was only a half-mile east of our place and the folks there seemed really nice. My wife, Audrey, instantly was befriended by a bubbly lady by the name of Mary Howes. Yup, she was trooper Mike’s one and only. And, in the fullness of time, we ended up inviting the Howes down to see our “new” 130-year-old Big Stone Lodge.
That proved to be a wise decision, since Mike was one of the greatest fixer-uppers. His gifting was in the area of “helps,” and he fixed so many trouble spots in our place, that he likely added thirty years to its longevity.
And what did Mike and I have in common to talk about? We both did have backgrounds in military policing, but Mike really wasn’t into my obsessions — fishing or literature or nature study; his favorite topics were his pet cats, his kids, and cutting winter wood for his trailer stove and, oh yea, snow-snow mobileing. He didn't care much for revisiting the problems he faced at work.
But in reality, Mike Howes was truly a peace-loving, gentle man who loved the simple pleasures of grilling great steaks, fixing stuff, and talking about his kids. But the daily stress of confronting doped-up speeders more and more inclined to be hostile took a definite toll on Mike’s gentle heart. Therefore, he took an early retirement, which caused him to have to drive beet trucks to make ends meet.
That was until the day he was helping Mary with dishes. She had turned away for a moment, and suddenly she heard a thud. In an instant, Mike was “knock, knock, knocking at Heaven’s gate.”
His funeral was one of the most moving I have ever attended. Nearly every available peace-officer in the state was there, and for all the right reasons. North Dakota had lost a one-of-a-kind trooper extraordinaire, and Audrey and I had lost our dear and precious friend.
The words of Marc Anthony over the dead Brutus seem perfectly suited for Mike Howes: “His life was gentle/ And the elements so mixed in him/ That Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘this was a man./ Take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again.”