Howard Schonberger is Citizen of the Year

Howard at his desk at the Journal office

The upcoming Knowledge Bowl, a local event that pits high school students and service groups against each other in a riveting game of trivia, will be missing a key player this year, community legend Howard Schonberger, who passed away at age 94 Oct. 23, 2015. Fellow Lions Club member George Johnson reminisced about Howard’s involvement on the Lions team at the Knowledge Bowl, relying on him for his knack of trivia and long, full life.

“His lengthy career in newspapers, driven largely by an interest in current events, helped him immensely with history questions,” Johnson said. “Of course, at the Knowledge Bowl, we’d often tease him when a question about ‘ancient history’ would come up.”

Johnson said they would joke with him, if a trivia question was “When was the Magna Carta signed?” the group would say “1066, we know because Howard was there!”

Howard was a member of the Lions Club, American Legion, the first male member of the Soroptimist International of Friday Harbor, and a board member of the San Juan faction of United Way, and is the Journal’s choice for Citizen of the Year for 2015. He was well-known on the island for supporting groups that benefitted the community, attending events like the Knowledge Bowl, often to fundraise or just for fun. His youthful energy, positive outlook and tenacity inspired those around him, whether in a professional or casual capacity.

Howard was truly an engaged citizen, including his military service in World War II and the Korean War. He consistently marched with the American Legion in the Fourth of July Parade, until his health issues interfered. Although Howard was never on the board of the legion, ex-commander Shannon Plummer said he was a prominent member who could be counted on.

His journalism career spanned decades as he worked as a reporter, ad salesman, associate producer and columnist. At the Journal of the San Juans, his columns “Ferry Home Companion” and “Making a Difference” highlighted town events, put a spotlight on important fundraisers and the small things in life. In short, he kept a personable documentation of what makes a close-knit community tick.

“He believed in the local newspaper as a force for good, that its job wasn’t just to hold those in power accountable, but also to bring to light that which is good about humanity, and in doing so to inspire others to become involved and make change in their community,” said Richard Walker, editor of the Journal from 1999 to 2011.

Howard was a leading board member of United Way, which he joined in the 90s. Elli Gull, who worked with United Way from 2012-2015, said he was active in the group and a strong supporter of United Way’s goals, specifically for projects dealing with early childhood education, prevention services for youth and programs for older, disabled adults.

United Way President William Morrissey said Howard was also essential for publicity and would assist in the organization’s “Annual Campaign,” and worked with Morrissey on a major donor committee years ago.

“Howard was always passionate and very supportive of United Way. You could always count on his positive attitude which we always appreciated,” Morrissey said. “I considered Howard to be a good friend. We always appreciated his insights since he had such a long history on the island.”

Howard was also very proud of being the first male member of Soroptimist International, according to member Nancy Hanson. He didn’t often make it to meetings due to his water aerobics class, but always attended the St. Patrick’s Day Extravaganza, one of the Soroptimist’s largest fundraisers, and covered their events with a camera in hand.

It’s hard to quantify the sort of work that Howard did for the community through his service. It wasn’t one or two projects that he did, or one specific group he worked with. For Howard, community service was his life’s work, and something that could be as easy as a warm smile on a cold day.

“When you think of what it means to be a great American, Howard was it,” said Plummer.