Hazel Howell turned 97 in May. The Masury woman never imagined she would live this long, and ponders why she has.
“I keep wondering, ‘Why is the Lord leaving me here?’” she said. “And they say, ‘Well, he’s not done with you yet.’ I’ve got a cousin, he said, ‘Well, the Lord don’t know what to do with you. That’s the reason he leaves you.’”
Whatever the reason for her longevity, Howell believes in staying busy while she’s here. For Howell, keeping busy means helping people.
“She’s always willing to help anybody and everybody,” said her neighbor, Harriett Snyder. “Standard procedure for Hazel.”
The daughter of Mabel and George Ruff, Howell, who still lives independently, was raised on a dairy farm in Barnesville, Ohio. After graduating high school, she studied economics for two years at Thiel College in Greenville, and one year at Ohio State, but never completed her degree.
“My brother had a heart problem, so I had to quit before my fourth year” of college, she said. She moved back home and took care of the farm, landing a job as a bookkeeper with the Belmont County Farm Bureau.
In 1949, she married Lester Howell, a construction worker who installed gas lines in the Cleveland area, and they lived in Maple Heights.
Hazel Howell was a homemaker for a while, then took a job with a tool company. The couple had no children.
In 1971, Lester needed heart surgery.
“When he recuperated from his first open-heart, the doctor said he couldn’t work anymore, and we had to go where it was warm in the winter, so we went to Arizona,” Howell said. They lived in Lake Havasu City, by the California border, during the winter, and on a friend’s farm in Cadiz, Ohio, during the summer.”
They started expanding their horizons, traveling all over in their camper trailer. Howell has been to 47 states, Canada and Scotland.
“I guess it’s the gypsy in me,” she said. “I like Texas. I like Wyoming and Montana and Canada. I’ve been to Canada quite a number of times.”
It’s fair to say that she likes big, open spaces, she said, and she likes to tell stories of her travels. Snyder is a rapt audience.
“It is just so interesting to sit and listen to her,” Snyder said. “She can tell you stories, she can see like it’s happening now. There is a lot of detail in her stories.”
Lester Howell died in 1984, and Howell moved to Sharon take care of her mother, for three years.
“After she died, I went back to Cadiz for the summer and decided that I needed to be back up here, because I had three aunts and a sister-in-law. That’s the reason I came back here.”
She moved into an apartment on Cleveland Street, and then moved to Valley West apartments on Brookfield Avenue, where she remains.
It was while caring for her mother that she started looking for something to do, and that led her to an ongoing commitment to community service.
“I needed something to put my time in, besides taking care of her, so I volunteered at the Farrell hospital, in medical records,” Howell said.
She joined Hermitage Church of Christ, where she has taught Bible study and helped with vacation Bible school. She also became one of a group of ladies called the Sisters of Service, who use their sewing talents for community projects.
“Since 2005, the ladies at church have made Burden Bears, and we give those to the hospice nurses that give it to their patients,” Howell said. “Then, we, I think, 2009, it was, we started making gowns out of nice fabric for the patients. Then we found out that little children, when they go to the hospital to have a shot, sew up a cut or something, they needed a little bear, so we make little bears and they’re called Comfort Bears, in order to have something to hug when they’re crying.”
In 1989, she started volunteering for the Sharon Regional hospice program.
“A gal that was a volunteer with the Farrell hospital also was a volunteer with the hospice, and she said, ‘You need to go volunteer with hospice,’” Howell said. “Well, I had had a little remembrance of hospice, because they helped my aunt and I helped take care of her. I knew that it was a great organization. I first took training and went and sat with the patients, then they needed someone when someone dies to talk with the family, so I took more training and I would do bereavement. Then, after we started on these things at church, and since I was acquainted with hospice, I was the go-between for the hospice people and the church.”
While working with hospice can be emotionally tough, it’s another area where Howell’s faith keeps her strong.
“I realize it’s a very sad situation, but I have a lot of faith in the Lord and it’s up to him, it’s his way, just like this virus that we’re in and all this – it’s the Lord’s work that will help us get through it, or he’ll take us home,” she said.
As if that isn’t enough on her plate, “When I moved here, there were several ladies that belonged to the auxiliary, so they talked me into being a member,” Howell said.
The Brookfield Township Volunteer Fireman’s Auxiliary provides meals for American Red Cross blood drives, Memorial Day, funerals and events within the fire department, and participates in other community activities.
“She’s my left-hand man,” said auxiliary President Raella Baker. “She does a lot for me.”
In 2017, Howell was nominated for a Valley Legacy Award presented by Shepherd of the Valley and Lutheran Retirement Services Inc. for her community service.
“She is a wonderful example of care in action,” said Kelly Bianco, who nominated her.
When Snyder moved into Valley West in 2013, “(Howell) immediately latched onto me, and I haven’t regretted it at all,” Snyder said. “You can’t find a mean bone in her body.”
Howell does not hold grudges, as evidenced by her reconnecting with a family member she had been estranged from for several years, Snyder said.
Howell introduced Snyder to Hermitage Church of Christ, where Snyder is now a member, and got her into the auxiliary.
“She will get you into stuff you didn’t even know you were getting into,” Snyder quipped.
Howell has relied on Snyder and other friends and family members to get her around and shop for her, even before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Howell has occasionally fallen but has no burdensome health issues.
“I have fell and broke so many bones,” she said. “I broke six ribs at one time, but, really, I’m healthy, all things considered.”
Howell said she has no secret for living a long life.
“I have tried to be a Christian all my life,” she said. “I’ve never smoke or drank or any of that stuff.”