In the cozy comfort of their Prescott bungalow with a backyard full of climbing boulders and a lawn full of trees with decorated bird-feeders, Jim and Janet Howard reminisce about a five-decade love affair.
Their love story is one they embrace and cherish every day rather than just once a year.
This is a couple that never seem to tire of one another’s company, be it trip to the grocery store or a swim at the Prescott YMCA where they are regulars. On this particular morning, the two were packing lunches together for the local Hungry Kids Project.
Jim, a retired, one-time Prescott Unified School District superintendent and civic volunteer is quick to say he always buys flowers and chocolate for his bride on Valentine’s Day. Janet, a retired preschool operator/elementary school teacher and active volunteer, teases back he is the one with a sweet tooth.
Still, she admits she is touched that after all the years together he still thinks of her as his sweetheart. And vice versa.
With a wink at his wife of 53 years, Jim said he first eyed Janet Grossman, three years his junior — she is 76 and he will be 79 on Feb. 23 — in the student lounge at Omaha University, now the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
“I thought, she’s really cute — she’s cute now,” declared Jim who approached and suggested out loud “maybe I’ll take you out some time.”
Janet was less than enamored with the one-time jock, a loquacious charmer who had no trouble catching the eye of sorority girls. Jim laughs that Janet was a tough sell, one of the few to give him a shrug.
So he persisted. They both concur she proved a challenge he couldn’t resist.
On his third try — a girlfriend proved a tricky matchmaker — Janet agreed to attend a football postgame party with him. The two chortle over one of Jim’s dating ruses. He dialed her number only to hang up. She dialed back. He answered.
“That call was rather civil,” Janet said.
Soon the two were going to football games and dances together. She brought him home to meet her family who he connected with almost from the start. Jim actually had a passing acquaintance with Janet’s brother, Fred, before he came to pick her up for what was their first official date.
“I thought Janet was the one because she challenged me. Most of the girls I met were dingy. She was straight ahead. And it’s been that way ever since,” Jim said.
The two dated for five years before their wedding on July 31, 1965. Jim hid her engagement ring in the glove compartment of his bright red Buick convertible. Janet jokes it was a bit cocky of him to assume she would like what he picked.
Or that she would say yes.
“We’re quite different,” Janet explains.
To their family, friends and fellow civic volunteers, that is a true statement.
A storyteller/athlete/educator willing to engage with anyone, Jim is a well-respected community leader active in numerous organizations; he is a member of the Yavapai Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees and has an office wall full of plaques and civic accolades. Janet is the quiet worker bee, preferring behind-the-scenes roles.
In their family life and careers, Janet has always been the “leveler,” the practical one able to take Jim’s full-speed ahead approach and slow it down so that they don’t make a misstep, her husband said.
“She’s the one who is able to pull people together,” Jim boasts.
“It’s a team effort,” Janet responds.
Their proudest achievements — and there have been many for both — are their three adult children/spouses and seven grandchildren. Their eldest son, Jamie, is a software developer in Colorado; Joe is following in his parents’ footsteps as an educator, now serving as Prescott Unified School District’s superintendent; and Jenny is a Prescott-based artist.
For certain, the Howards are devoted grandparents. They try to be a presence in all their grandkids’ activities, whether it happens to be taking one on a first tour of college, attending a musical performance, or going shopping with one to find a birthday gift for a favorite relative.
On Christmas night, the Howards were customers at the Bird Cage Saloon so as to watch their twin grandsons, Jason and Jonah Howard of the Cross-Eyed Possum, perform on stage.
“It’s like they are newlyweds. They unconditionally love one another. They are so cute,” said Sarah Torres, administrative assistant to the Prescott Unified School District superintendent’s office and governing board. “They are an inspiration, for sure.”
When not busy with family outings, the Howards said they appreciate time to hang out together.
“What holds us together, and keeps the love alive, is that we tell it how it is,” Janet said.
“I just love being with Janet,” Jim said. “We laugh a lot.”