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Old Settler Vice President Patty Howard grew up on 'Johnsville'
July 14, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

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Patty Howard in the nook of her straw-insulated home, north of Chimney Rock.

Patty Howard (nee Johns), who grew up in Creighton Valley, will serve as the Old Settlers Honorary Vice President during the 90th annual celebration of Oregon Trail Days.

Patty was born south and west of Melbeta on the Wright’s Gap Road. “My father and mother were Earl and Myrna Johns,” she said. “My mother came to this area as a teacher and taught at the Creighton Valley School, which was just across the section from the farm. She would substitute teach later, but once they had a family, she stayed at home.”

Patty grew up with two older sisters and a younger brother on their farm in Creighton Valley. Because her grandfather had bought a lot of land in the area, many of their aunts, uncles and cousins loved close to each other. The area was what Patty called a “Johnsville.”

Growing up, Patty belonged to the Bonnie Belles 4-H sewing club. She was also a member of the Code Valley Pig Club. So they always built a float to participate in Oregon Trail Days.

She remembered that during her high school years at Melbeta, the 4-H clubs sponsored events in school gyms that featured dancing and games. When Patty attended one of the dances as a sophomore, she had no idea that night would change her life.

“One of the dances was a ladies’ choice, but the young man next to me was taken,” she said. “So I decided to be brave and ask a boy across the room to dance.”

The young man was from McGrew, a senior named Gordon Howard. And this July, the will have been together 58 years.

Patty and Gordon were married in 1953, when she was 17½ and just out of high school. The day was also Gordon’s 20th birthday.

The Howards have three children: Dan is a dentist in Morrill. Their daughter, Cris, supervises four call centers for Cabela’s. And Kevin is the director of Scotts Bluff County Tourism.
In the late 1970s, Patty and Gordon started a new business – the Oregon Trail Wagon Train, which promoted local history and featured campsite dining under the prairie stars during the summer months. During the winters, they operated the Country Prime Rib restaurant.

“We were very much into history as it was in the 1850s and promoted that thorough the business,” Patty said. “Although we sold the business, we’ve made some dear friends over the years.”

For the past 10 years, Patty and Gordon have kept busy building a house that’s insulated with straw. In the living room is a “proof window,” showing the interior insulation. And the floors were made of mud, sealed with paint and topped with floor covering.

“It took about 10 years because we could only work in the summer,” she said. ‘We really worked hard last summer because we had promised the kids to have Thanksgiving in our new house that year.”

That celebration was only the first. Their granddaughter Emily and the rest of her team came out for a special prime rib dinner in December. Emily was on the Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team that won the national championship in 2010.

‘We promised them is they won the championship, we’d have them here for prime rib,” Patty said. “We had about 20 people here and it was just a great time.”

Patty said she’s looking forward to seeing old friends again during the Oregon Trail Days celebration. She’s known this year’s president, Don Parmenter, for many years and attended school with one of his brothers.

“It’ll be an honor to ride in the parade with Don,” she said. “He’s one of the good guys.”

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