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Howard who?

Maybe it’s time you got acquainted with Howard Tabor, writer for The Daily Plantagenet and principal voice for Agincourt’s past. I can’t honestly tell you what motivates Howard to tackle the topics he has since 2006, the year the sesqui-centennial series began. But I can tell you this: his style is anything but journalistic and wouldn’t survive a week of scrutiny at a “real” newspaper–say one like The Forum. Howard should be proud of that. Since he’s such a self-effacing guy, I wrote a short biographical sketch last Sunday on the drive back from Minneapolis:

Howard Tabor, purported author of “A few figs from thistles…,” lives a quiet unpretentious life in Agincourt, a modest Iowa town where he was born sixty-five years ago.

As a high school graduate in the early 1960s, a career in journalism for Tabor was farfetched, not to say unthinkable. He aspired to be an architect, like his great-uncle Anson Tennant, designer of the old Agincourt Public Library in 1914-1915. But one semester at the State University in Ames convinced Tabor that the profession might tolerate him at best; it would certainly never welcome him into its ranks or files. Architecture, he knew, was both art and science; the art he could learn, the mathematics he would endure, but it was the unforeseen business of architecture that dissuaded him from making any further commitment to its five-year course of study. He was, it turned out, a devotee of words; words carefully chosen but not always deployed with diplomacy or tact. A quick lateral move to the English department afforded Tabor a middling anonymity and time to marinate in language. Seven semesters later, he graduated into a world where uncertainty was sure, and his job prospects obtuse at best. It was 1968 and all that that entailed. Nineteen sixty-eight changed all of us: Anson Tennant died during the winter; Howard Tabor graduated that spring; and American political life ruptured during the summer of our discontent at the Democratic National Convention.

Chicago called to him—perhaps with the same voice that had beckoned great-uncle Anson—to engage there with the architecture of words. So in the fall, Howard found an apartment on Chicago’s north side and a job on its south, as part-time staff for Draugas, a Lithuanian Catholic newspaper — an odd choice, since Tabor was neither, and journalism hadn’t even been his major. Additional income came from work at a used and rare book dealer on North Dearborn Street near his apartment. Coincidentally, he also lived only seven blocks from the Chicago Historical Society headquarters in Lincoln park. This triangle defined his life for the next three years, until an opening at the Plantagenet brought him home.

If you didn’t already know, Tabor is part of the extended Tennant family, a double-edged sword in that part of Iowa. The Tennants were interested in everything — media, manufacturing, culture and heritage — so it’s hard to say if their connections played a role in landing the job. From July 1971, Howard has honed his craft, writing everything from ads to obits; selling ad space and subscriptions; working hard to keep the paper afloat into the digital age. The up-side of this extended family has been easy access to information, the sort that rarely qualifies as “public record.” His columns are redolent with those intimate personal insights; history as oral tradition.

More personally, Tabor lives with his partner Rowan Oakes, history teacher at Fennimore County High. The two of them recently undertook a daunting project: restoration of the Wassermann Block, new home of The Periodic Table, Agincourt’s newest restaurant, and also a bed-and-breakfast on the second floor. Other “bucket list” projects include writing a family history (for private circulation), a more public anthology of his “Few figs…” columns, and yet another exhibition in October 2012 to celebrate Agincourt becoming the Fennimore County seat.

As the blog drones on, I’ll include some chunks from those 150-plus columns just in case you’re curious. Stay tuned. As always, you’re comments, contributions and criticisms are welcome.


1 Comment

  1. R.H.L.M. Ramsay says:

    The exhibit promised for October 2011 has been postponed twelve months—when, that’s a relief.

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