Life Story / Obituary
A vibrant man always ready to tell a joke, share a drink, or simply listen, Howard Richard Larke inspired all who were blessed to share time with him. Gregarious and fun – always the center of a party – Howard possessed a deep love for others. Whether family or friend, coworker or customer, fellow sailor or neighbor, all were welcome in Howard’s big heart. He had a gift for listening in a way that let others know he truly cared about what they had to say. It was what made him so great at his job and what made him so easy to love.
The year Howard was born, 1948, was a momentous one not only for the Larke household, but for the United States as a whole. World War II was at an end, and the country celebrated. America's heroes, including Howard’s own father, eagerly returned home to a country filled with renewed spirit and hope ready to claim their share of the American Dream. As American prosperity grew like no time in our history, the Greatest Generation gave birth to the age of the Baby Boomers. In Detroit, the cause for celebration was even sweeter as Richard and Alice (Schultz) Larke welcomed their first child, Howard, into their hearts and home on March 10, 1948.
Born with a magnetic personality and an inherent zest for life, Howard enjoyed an adventure-filled Detroit childhood in the company of his four younger siblings. After moving to Avon, CT during high school, Howard’s love of music and sports led him to play the French horn in the high school marching band and join the baseball team.
Having inherited the innate skills of a great salesman from his dad, Howard earned an associate’s degree from the local community college and then transferred to WMU. Howard soon found much success in the field he seemed born to pursue: sales. Throughout his career, several local companies benefitted from Howard’s talents. He worked for Paw Paw Wine Distributors and St. Julian Winery for well over 20 years. He put his love for boats to work by covering sales territory for two different marine parts companies for nearly 10 years. Then he returned to the wine business for a short time and finished his career with a decade at Chem Link, where he was the National Private Label Sales Manager. He was proud of his work and sincerely cared for his customers, who knew Howard meant what he said and would do everything in his power to get the job done.
In 1975, a friend orchestrated a business meeting for Howard with a dark-haired beauty named Victoria. They planned an event for 360 people together and at the end of the party, Howard finally asked her to dinner. Luckily, Victoria appreciated a man with a bald head, and she soon fell in love with his big, brown eyes, ready smile, and naughty sense of humor. Howard fell in love, too, with not only Victoria but her small son, James. The two dated for the next four years and married on March 30, 1979, in an intimate ceremony at Kalamazoo Mayor Francis Hamilton’s home. Shortly after, Howard officially adopted James, proud to call him his son.
Howard and Victoria joyfully welcomed two more beautiful children into their family: Allyson and Michael. With their three children at the center of their lives, Howard and Victoria decided to purchase 13.5 acres in Gobles and carefully built their family home. Here, Howard was able to entertain family and friends with his amazing cooking skills. His favorite holiday was Thanksgiving, when he’d cook for three days and present the most mouth-watering grilled turkey on earth. Family traveled from across the country each year to the little house in Gobles to share the food, laughter, and stories that Howard and Victoria were happy to provide.
With a deep love for sailing, Howard created many wonderful memories over the years on his sailboats, most notably the Chardonnay. Nearly every weekend Howard and family made the trip to Saugatuck to spend time with the wind on Lake Michigan or to relax with friends on the dock. Always the life of the party, Howard’s charisma meant he was always at the center of the loudest group in the room (or on the dock), creating laughter with his bad puns and naughty jokes. All who knew him will attest that in Howard’s heart there was no such thing as a stranger. Howard’s love of people assured he would quickly find the gold in anyone he met. He was a safe harbor for others in life’s uncertain waters.
The simple things in life were Howard’s greatest treasures. He joined a golf league at Lake Cora and worked diligently on his handicap. A holdover of a different time, he read the newspaper every night but he also kept up with all things electronic and technological. Howard loved a good gadget and easily learned to navigate his smart phone and Facebook, too. Playing just the right song or pinching just the right spot to inspire a bit of agitation in one of his kids fueled his heart and his laughter. Howard also shared his love and respect for the water with his children and held dear the years they served as his racing crew at Tower Harbor Yacht Club. Captain Howie knew how to win a sailboat race, no matter what boat he was steering.
Upon becoming a grandfather, Howard’s sense of true north grew abundantly clear. Growing to know Helena, Mikaela, Tripp, and Miles was a source of immense joy for him. He was determined they know how much he loved and cherished them and would take the time to connect with each one as they visited. Howard took great care and pride in picking out just the right big gift for the kids to enjoy together each Christmas. Last year it was a foosball table – a huge hit with the kids.
Though Life’s grand party has certainly grown much quieter in Howard’s absence, the memories of his infectious laugh, love of people, and passion for life will long be held as precious treasure in the hearts of all who loved him. Whether retelling one of his famous stories, listening to Jimmy Buffet, or catching a sunset on Lake Michigan, Howard’s family and friends will continue to share Howard’s very big, heart-centered, inspiring legacy in each and every day of their own lives.
Howard Richard Larke, age 69, died April 9, 2017, in Kalamazoo. Surviving are his wife of 38 years, Victoria Larke; 3 children: James (Corinne) Larke, Allyson (Wayne) Kelley and Mike Larke; 4 grandchildren: Helena, Mikaela, Tripp and Miles Kelley; 4 siblings: Nancy Larke, Tom Larke, Diane (Rick) Williams and Dan (Heidi) Larke and 3 nieces. A memorial service will take place Friday at 1 pm at the Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr. Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900 followed by a reception in the Life Story Center. Please visit Howard’s personal web page at www.betzlerfuneralhome.com where you can read his story, archive a favorite memory or photo and sign his online guestbook before coming to the funeral home. Memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Wounded Warrior Project.