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McHenry resident recalls: ‘They were always after me’

Published: Thursday, Sept. 27, 2012 5:30 a.m. CDT
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McHENRY – In many ways, McHenry in the 1930s and ’40s looked a lot different than it does today.

But one thing hasn’t changed all that much. Even back then, there were incidents of bullying.

Longtime McHenry resident Don Howard was bullied as a freshman at McHenry High School.

Howard’s mother was a single parent. His father died when Howard was just 3 years old.

She was an accomplished seamstress, and the two moved to McHenry, where she found work repairing clothing. They rented a Green Street storefront for her tailor shop. The two also called it home.

When he was a young teen, Howard’s mother enrolled him at St. Mary’s Catholic School. He was a public school kid, sent to make his First Communion. Howard knew no one and felt like an outcast under the strict guidance of the school’s nuns.

His peers would throw rocks and snowballs at him, whatever was available.

Then came high school. And like many freshmen both before and after him, Howard was bullied by older students.

“They were always after me,” recalled Howard, now 89.

The older students often took the freshmen and sat them on top of water fountains and turned them on, soaking their pants. The worst was when the older boys took their younger peers out in a car and dropped them off about three miles out of town, and left them to walk home.

In one frightening incident, Howard said he was tossed from an iron bridge on Green Street into Boone Creek. Fortunately, he knew how to swim.

“Thank God.”

Howard managed to make it out of freshman year alive – and dry – and went on to play receiver on the football team and was captain of the basketball team his senior year.

“Outside of those little incidents, I loved school,” said Howard, who graduated in 1941. He credited former McHenry schools Superintendent Chauncey H. Duker with being his mentor.

“He was the nicest guy,” Howard said. “He helped me. I didn’t have a dad, and I think that made a difference to him. He wanted to make sure I got everything done.”

As an adult, Howard became a successful business owner when in 1969 he opened Mr. Don’s Cleaners.

The dry-cleaning business is still open today and run by his grandchildren.

Howard served on as many community and civic boards as he could, including the school board and the hospital board that was instrumental in getting helicopters at Centegra Hospital – McHenry.

“I lived a good life,” he said.

• Assistant News Editor Joan Oliver contributed to this article.

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