Don Howell’s obituary appeared recently in the Cannon Beach Gazette. I would like to say a few words about this fine man. I have lived in Cannon Beach for 45 years and one of my first jobs was with the City of Cannon Beach in the early 1970s. Don Howell was the water superintendent at that time. Before he worked for the city, he worked for the privately owned water system, later purchased by the city. He knew the water system intimately and demonstrated his depth of knowledge every day.
Being new to Cannon Beach, I asked Don to help me understand the water system from the origin of our water, to the delivery system, to the reservoirs and treatment of our water supply. Over the years, Don took me into the forest where we climbed a huge fallen tree that had steps carved into it and boards nailed on it to provide access to the natural springs. These springs burbled out of the hill from an underground source in the Coast Range. It was a stunningly beautiful and peaceful place. He also took me to read the water meters once or twice. It took three days to do it at that time. Each meter had to be found (not always an easy task), opened up and the reading recorded by hand. It was a fascinating way to get to know the city. Naturally, breaks in the system would occur from time to time and you would see Don standing in a ditch, using a shovel in the driving rain, often in the dark, wee hours of the morning. He was a dedicated, hardworking city employee that loved his town.
Once, when the city employees went to a League of Oregon Cities conference, I rode back with Don on Highway 26. On Saddle Mountain, we came across a mother duck trying to lead 8 ducklings across the highway. She’d start and stop with those little guys trailing behind her and she had already lost two of them to the unheeding traffic. Don stopped the car and walked into the roadway to help her herd her offspring safely to the other side. He was a kind man.
Another time he received a letter from a woman complaining that the water made her sick when she came to her home in Cannon Beach, because there was too much chlorine in it, while she did not have this problem in her Portland home. Don researched her location in Portland, sent for the water testing results from her delivery system and found that the chlorine content was seven times higher than the amount in Cannon Beach and that the water required ammonia to maintain the level of chlorine to the delivery point. He wrote her with the results. He was not one to allow incorrect information about his town’s water system to go unchallenged.
Don was a fine man in so many ways. His dedication put the lie to the idea of uncaring bureaucrats and lazy public employees. He was a credit to his community and I respected him more than I can say. Rest in peace, Don.