Remembering Howard and Ernie

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Polk County icon has now entered into life eternal after living a long, long time among us here. I have known Howard Greene most of my life and have been writing about him since 1999. He was a WWII veteran, initial partner with Joe Kirby in G&K Furniture, a faithful member of Tryon’s First Baptist Church and Kiwanis Club, and benefactor to a multitude. 

Howard Greene

Howard Greene

He was featured in a column I called “Friend for Life IV,” later republished in my first book, “A Boy in the Amen Corner.” That one is half Howard and half PFC Bryant Womack, though. That’s because I was championing Womack, the only Polk County person to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Howard was his mentor in the Army and probably the last local person to see Bryant alive.

I mentioned that Howard had a perfect attendance record at Kiwanis “for about a hundred years, more or less.” This prompted Andy Millard to write a letter to the editor further extolling Howard’s many virtues, also published in “Amen.” Howard is mentioned several times in my subsequent columns. Thing is, we don’t know a tenth of the good he did among us.

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I will quote from my earlier writing, as I probably cannot write it any better today!

“Fran and I bought all of our stuff that he sold from Howard because we knew that he would treat us right before, during and after the sale. In WWII, Howard served in the Army as a Ranger. He stayed in the reserves and was recalled for the Korean and Vietnam actions.

“Howard found opportunities to advise young men from Polk County who found themselves in the Army for those later wars. Howard went with them on field marches even when he was twice as old as his trainees, and he generally outlasted them. He is one tough old bird, powered by a heart of gold.

“Bound for Columbus, N.C. from Columbia, S.C. (Fort Jackson), Howard often filled his car with GIs who lived in Polk County. He brought Bryant Womack home several times, and always had to let him out at the oak tree where his folks would meet him. Howard wanted to take him all the way to his house, but Womack always insisted on getting out there, where Howard could turn around by driving around the tree.”

“When I finally located Howard one day, he said he had been visiting his mother, Bessie Greene, at Ridgerest. And I thought Howard is older than everybody! Yet he drives his car many miles for the VA hospital and is a courier for St. Luke’s. He is a deacon in our church and is always there, helping with whatever needs to be done. He serves as an Honor Guard for the American Legion—they offer military courtesies at burials of veterans.”

Howard just never understood why so many people loved him, or why they’d want to name a building for him. And every time I visited him, at his home, the hospital or White Oak, he made a point of saying that he was honored that I would come to see him!   

I must also mention friend Ernie Giannini, whose life ended so unexpectedly recently. I used to join Ernie on the treadmills at PRO, and we shared observations born of our long lives of people- watching. Ernie was a Big Brother and active in Kiwanis, but as with Howard, we don’t know a tenth of the good Ernie did in our community. I believe they both earned the esteem of their fellow citizens as we enjoyed one another’s company on the trek through this life to the next.