Red Howard, small-town cop
Author: Grace Shackman
Tough and outgoing, he embodied the AAPD for forty years
Sam Schlecht still remembers a run-in he had with Ann Arbor policeman Red Howard in the 1920s. On a Halloween night, when Schlecht was about ten, he and a buddy played a prank on a neighbor. “We took a couple of big garbage cans and dumped them on the porch,” Schlecht recalls. This act was evidently witnessed, because they had run only a couple of blocks before they were overtaken by Howard, driving the Police Department’s red Buick touring car.
The boys confessed to the crime. “I wasn’t going to lie, because if it got back to my grandmother I would really be up a creek,” Schlecht recalls. Howard told them he was taking them in. After driving toward the police station long enough to make them thoroughly frightened, Howard turned back to the scene of the crime, where he set them to work cleaning up the porch. Schlecht, of course, never performed that act of vandalism again.
When Red Howard joined the police in 1907, Ann Arbor was a town of about 14,000 people. Though the city grew several fold during his forty years on the force, he always remained a small-town cop. He handled wrongdoers more like a strict parent than a legal functionary. “The word was that Red never arrested anyone, but he did more good than anyone else,” recalls Warren Staebler. “A good licking down did more good than fining.”
A big man, six feet two inches and of impressive girth, Howard kept order more by his commanding presence than by his billy club or gun. Although he never advanced beyond the rank of sergeant, he embodied the department to Ann Arborites of his era. People still remember him vividly fifty years after his death.
To Howard, what we now call “community policing” was second nature. He “would walk up and talk to anyone,” recalls Bob Kuhn, who lived on Catherine Street. “He was super to kids,” remembers Mary Schlecht. “Everyone liked him,” agrees Jim Crawford, former head of the Black Elks. On good terms with the Main Street merchants, he was equally comfortable in the rougher bar areas. “No one scared him,” says his daughter, Roseanna Ingram.
As Sam Schlecht found, Howard often acted as judge and jury as well as policeman. When Dick Tasch was a U-M freshman, he and some classmates printed up broadsides taunting the sophomore class and pasted them surreptitiously on State Street buildings. “One night, about one a.m., we put a whole bunch at Goldman Cleaners and Quarry Drugs,” Tasch remembers, “and were going around the corner when there was Red Howard standing. We took off running.”
A local boy, Tasch was able to duck out of sight and escape, but the others were caught. Tasch drove by later and found his classmates carrying pails and scrub brushes, cleaning up. “You didn’t go to court,” Tasch recalls. “He’d punish you on the job.”
Though overweight and a heavy smoker, Howard could outrun most criminals. He kept his strength up his whole career. Duane Bauer, who joined the force the year before Howard retired, remembers an incident at Michigan Stadium when two drunks were creating a disturbance down by the field. “Red took both by the neck and took them up seventy-two steps. He was a powerful man.”
Before and after football games, Howard also directed traffic at the corner of State and Packard. When people asked if he wasn’t scared of being run over, he’d reply, “If they hit me, they’ll get a big grease spot.” Not surprisingly, he made a big impression on out-of-towners. Bauer, who took over that intersection after Howard retired, recalls, “More people wanted to know what happened to big old Red.”
Howard’s real first name was Marland; he got the nickname Red as a schoolboy because of the color of his hair. He was born in 1878 in Saline, the son of an Irish produce merchant, and grew up on Hiscock Street in Ann Arbor.
At the time, half the town was of German descent. Howard learned to speak the language from other kids in the neighborhood. (“He could rattle off German like anything,” his daughter remembers.) He was often called the German-Irish cop, because he always lived in German neighborhoods and enjoyed German beer and German food.
Howard quit school when he was eleven and worked at a grocery store and then at Godfrey Moving (he was a relative of owner Dana Creal) before joining the police. He married Rose Galligan of Northfield Township in 1903, and they lived at 410 West Washington, where the Y now stands. Along with their own four children, the Howards usually had other relatives living with them.
Howard’s personal life mirrored his police style. He was warm and loving, but also strict. He told his sons, “If you get arrested and go to jail, don’t call me.” He kept a careful eye on his girls. “I couldn’t do anything that wouldn’t get back to him,” recalls Ingram. His granddaughter Joan Dwyer Hume, who also lived in the house, recalls that Howard checked out all her boyfriends to make sure they didn’t have police records. But Hume also has wonderful memories of walking home from St. Thomas School when Howard was walking his beat on Huron Street. He’d watch for her so that he could take Hume and her friends to Candy Land for ice cream.
In 1937, after thirty years of service and completion of a training course on new police methods, Howard was promoted to sergeant. “Even after he was a sergeant, he’d still go out on the beat because he loved it,” recalls Ingram. “He went down to Main Street, where everyone knew him and thought he was the greatest. He didn’t give two hoots for an office.”
Howard’s personality and seniority won the respect of his fellow officers (there were eight when he started, more than forty by the time he retired). “He was the only policeman who could bring a bottle of beer with his lunch,” Bauer remembers. John Walter, who joined the police the same year as Bauer, recalls that they called Howard “Pappy” because he was the oldest man on the force. “He was a joyful guy,” says Walter. “We kidded him an awful lot. He took it and gave it back.”
Howard didn’t retire until he was sixty-nine. “All I ever wanted to do was police work,” he
told Ingram. “I loved every minute.” His family held a huge retirement party in his honor.
Afterward, Howard spent more time at his cottage on Crooked Lake. He loved to fish, and had a boat
that was specially built to hold his weight.
In declining health, he also spent time in the hospital. Ingram and Hume remember coming to visit him and finding three clergymen sitting at his bedside: the ministers from Zion and Bethlehem, and Father Carey from St. Thomas. They were discussing fishing.
Howard died of lung cancer in 1948, just a year after he retired. His funeral was held at St. Thomas with police chief Casper Enkemann and judge Jay Paine among the pallbearers. “When he passed, we learned a lot,” his daughter recalls. “It was such a big funeral. Police came from out of town, firemen, and people he helped. He made an impression. He had more friends than he ever knew.”
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