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March 18, 2019

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Talented painter in our midst

90-year-old Bob Hower took up painting in 2005 after remodeling five houses, built two barns and restored over 50 automobiles

Maple Crest Villa resident Bob Hower is a one-person assembly line. At age 90, he can look back on a lifetime of building and remodeling homes and restoring old cars.

“I built my own house and remodeled five,” Hower added.  “I’ve built two barns and restored more than 50 automobiles.” 

He is just as productive with his artwork. Taking up painting in 2005, he’s completed 130 oils with a goal of 150.  Discovering oil painting later in life, Hower holds a bachelor’s degree in art and has taught himself skills in several areas.  This is quite a departure from the career he thought he’d follow . . . working on slate roofs.

Originally from Bangor, Pennsylvania, the “slate roof capital of the world,” Hower graduated from Bluffton College majoring in art with a minor in history. 

“My uncle was a Mennonite minister and on the board of the college,” Hower remembered.  “He came to our house after I graduated from high school and said, ‘pack your bags, you’re going to college.’ He paid my way and made it possible for me to get my degree.” 

After a stint in the U.S. Army, Hower returned home to Pennsylvania and a job working in a local grocery store.  One day his former math teacher stopped by and provided the momentum he needed for a career change.  She bluntly asked him, “What are you doing here?  You have a college degree.  Get going!”   

Getting going
Lacking a teaching certificate, Hower started taking classes in industrial arts at Ohio Northern University in Ada.  He worked part time for Bixel’s Ford Dealership in Bluffton and was servicing a car at nearby Beaverdam High School when the superintendent asked him if he would like to teach industrial arts. He accepted the position, teaching on a temporary certificate from 1957-59. 

With industrial arts teachers in demand, Hower soon received a call from Bath High School in Lima, with another job offer.  He taught machine shop and welding for nearly 10 years at Bath, then the programs changed, and he found himself teaching graphic design.

“I didn’t really know anything about graphic design,” he said.  “I took one course and taught myself the rest.  It was tough.”  Hower taught his students offset printing, silk screening and even book binding.  He saw that digital design was the future, but the school wouldn’t add the equipment. He decided to retire in 1985.

The Howers, Bob and Jean, moved to Tennessee where they built their own house.  Bob had a heart attack in 1989,  but recovered and continued to work with his hands.  The couple lived in Florida from 1998-2004, and also built a home back in Elida, Ohio in 2002 where they lived during the summer.  In 2004, the Howers sold their Florida home and moved permanently back to Ohio.

A Passion for painting
In 2005, Hower began watching “The Joy of Painting,” on PBS.  The popular show featured art instructor Bob Ross who used a “wet on wet” oil painting technique.  Hower was fascinated and told Jean and his daughter that he wanted to “paint like Bob Ross.”  They presented him with a gift of three lessons from a Bob Ross instructor in Delphos.  After a short time, she asked him if he would like to study to become an instructor himself.

“I told her I had taught long enough and no thank you,” he laughed.

In 2018, Hower’s painting “Mountain Splendor” took first place in the LeadingAge District 3 Art and Writing Show.  He can finish a small painting in just a few hours, and, while not exactly a starving artist, doesn’t sell his paintings.  He gives them away as gifts to family, friends and sometimes to strangers who happen to admire his work. His inspiration comes from photographs, greeting cards, and pictures that friends send to him. 

Winter is Hower’s painting season.  He sets up shop in a cozy corner of his villa and paints away.  It’s likely he’ll reach his goal of 150 paintings in the next year. 

“I have to do it during the winter months,” he smiled. “In the summer, there’s too much golf to play!”