KANSAS CITY, Mo. - If you stepped into the Unified Government of Wyandotte County's Public Works Department offices on 7th Street over the past four decades, you likely bumped into Paul Vernon Howard.
Howard worked for nearly 40 years as an engineering specialist and only retired on May 22, 2013, at the age of 87, because his family told him it was time for him to go.
Doctors diagnosed Howard years earlier with a type of brain tumor and it was starting to impact his daily activities. He passed away several months later on October 12th, just shy of his 88th birthday.
Known as "Big Paul" by his family and friends, it's probably no surprise that along with helping the residents of Wyandotte County, Howard opened his home to anyone in need.
Breaking barriers while serving in the military
Paul Vernon Howard was born in Kansas City, Kansas on Oct. 25th, 1925. He graduated from Sumner High School in 1942.
Howard enrolled at the College of Engineering at Ohio State University, but with the nation in the grips of war, was drafted into The United States Army.
"He was very proud of the fact that he served his country," his son Paul Howard, Jr. told 41 Action News.
During World War II, Howard served as a Route Reconnaissance Patrol Leader for Elements of the Continental Advance Engineers.
At the time, The United States was still segregated, yet Howard moved up the ranks and photos and documents reveal he served as the only African-American soldier in certain regiments.
Paul Howard, Jr. described his father as a proud man.
"I think that would have made him proud to think, 'My skin may be a little bit different but I'm just as smart and trained and you know, I can do this job as well as any male or female,'" he said.
Howard also served in the Korean War and earned rank by the start of the Vietnam War but did not deploy. He retired from the military with the rank of Captain.
Howard: "I'll rest when I die"
Howard returned to Kansas City, Kansas where he met and married his wife, Mary DeLaCruz. They went on to have four children.
He also began working for the city of Kansas City, Kan.
Howard spent decades at City Hall and often used the phrase, "I'll rest when I die." He never took lunch breaks. Instead, every few hours his wife said he would eat a Twinkie or two.
At age 75, Howard was honored as one of the oldest employees working in local government.
In an article published in the Kansas City Kansan , Howard's boss at the time, Bob Roddy, described Howard as a man who's "able to keep us one step ahead of chaos."
"He was a very good-hearted man and he would give the shirt off his back for anybody." Mary Howard said.
Family friends told 41 Action News Howard and his wife never hesitated if a child in their neighborhood was in need. The couple would open their home, which allowed Howard to become a father figure to those children who weren't getting the attention they needed.
"At that time, our house wasn't very huge," Mary Howard said. "But everyone hung around our house because they were comfortable."
The Howards also encouraged neighborhood teenagers to stay in school and continue with their studies.
"We would let them stay with us and we told them not to worry about the rent," Mary Howard said. "All we want you to do is finish high school."
"I came from a place where people didn't get up to go to work," long-time family friend Mike White said, who spent a lot of time at the Howard household.
"He could have bought anything he wanted. He could have had any car, but he caught the bus to work every day," White said.
Although Howard retired in May, his son, known as "Little Paul," revealed his father never lost his sense of humor.
"I remember him being in the hospital once and he said, you know, I survived three wars and then I get in here and they're going to kill me," he said.
Following Howard's death, White talked about how much Howard will be missed.
"Throughout my life, I've always tried to look at that role model and be like, if I can be a piece of a man that he is then I know I'll be ok," he said.
Paul Vernon Howard: a humble man and Army Veteran whose generosity will be missed.