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February 20, 2013

Couple pass away within minutes of each other

Kokomo — After 63 years of marriage, a Kokomo couple passed away of natural causes Friday within minutes of each other after praying God would allow them to die together. The couple said they didn’t want to live without each other after months of suffering from deteriorating health.

Funeral services for Earle Howard, 86, and Lou Nell Howard, 82, were held Tuesday at First Church of the Nazarene, where a crowd gathered to commemorate the couple and hear what Pastor David Leeder described as “one of the greatest love stories of our time.”

Earle and Lou Nell married in Kokomo on July 11, 1949. Earle served in the Army during World War II and eventually became the Kokomo Police Chief. He was elected twice as Howard County Sheriff, and served as a state representative from 1986 to 1994.

Leeder said throughout their entire marriage, Earle and Lou Nell demonstrated a devotion to each other that he’s rarely seen in other couples. Leeder serves as senior pastor at First Church of the Nazarene, where the Howard’s attended for years.

“There was no doubt that Earle Howard loved his wife with a passion, and Lou Nell absolutely adored Earle,” he said. “To see one without the other, it just seemed like they weren’t quite complete.”

“They were the most elegant couple I have ever known,” he continued. “They were always pristinely turned out for church, always with smiles on their faces, and always giving words of appreciation and encouragement.”

Even in their old age, Leeder said they constantly expressed their love for each other.

“In the last months, it was just holding hands, warm smiles, and words of kindness,” he said.

However, Leeder said the couple’s health rapidly deteriorated over the last year. Lou Nell had been diagnosed with dementia, and Earle suffered from a serious heart condition.

Last month, Earle decided to go off dialysis. Doctors gave him three weeks to live. Lou Nell’s health was so bad she was set to move into a nursing home on Friday.

So last Wednesday, Leeder decided to pay a visit to the couple, who were under hospice care at their apartment at North Woods Village. He read scripture, and offered what would be the couple’s final communion service.

During that time, Earle shared he was ready to die, but he had one concern — leaving Lou Nell alone.

“He said, ‘I don’t know how she’ll manage, and I don’t want to leave her. I don’t know what to do.’”

So Leeder suggested praying God would allow Earle to pass away at the same time as his wife.

“He said, ‘Pastor, how perfect that would be.’”

The next day — Valentine’s Day —  the couple’s only daughter, Julie, decided to spend the evening with her parents.

“Their final night was truly a love story,” she said.

Earle said Thursday night he’d like a strawberry milkshake to share with Lou Nell, so Julie went and picked one up. Throughout the evening, they simply talked, watched TV and finally went to bed.

On Friday morning, Julie walked into the bedroom to wake up her parents. Lou Nell was planning on leaving that day for the nursing home.   

But when she entered the bedroom, Julie said she had to stand in the doorway in amazement. Lou Nell was laying in the bed on her left side, and Earle lay on his right.

“Their heads where touching, almost as if they were in the shape of a heart,” she said “They looked so content.”

Julie woke up Earle, who got up and dressed, but Lou Nell wouldn’t wake up. She was in some kind of comatose state.

Earle was dressed by that time, but said he didn’t feel well and sat down in a chair. Moments later, he died.

Julie, who works as a nurse, walked back into the bedroom and saw her mother take her last breath.

The couple passed away within just minutes, just as Earle had prayed.

“I can just hear my dad saying, ‘Honey, hurry up, Jesus is waiting for us,’” Julie said. “My mom wouldn’t have lived long without my dad, and God knew that. Dad didn’t want to leave my mom, and God knew that as well.”

Leeder agreed he believed it was a divine plan that led to Earle and Lou Nell passing at the same time.

“I believe God has been so kind, gracious and good to answer the prayers of a man who was troubled about leaving the one he was devoted to for over 63 years,” he said.

Howard County Sheriff Steve Rogers spoke Tuesday at the funeral, and said Earle was “one of the most dedicated public servants ever in this community.” But the motivation for his dedication was Lou Nell and Julie, Rogers said.

“Often a man like Earle is thought to be so driven by his profession that he ignores his family,” he said. “But Earle showed us we should be public servants because of our families — because of your family. He did what he did because of his family.”

Julie said losing both her parents at the same time was tough to handle, but she said she’s rejoicing that their prayers were answered.

“I don’t see it as their last night together, but the beginning of their life in heaven in God’s eternal love,” she said. “For sixty-three-and-a-half years, they were together on earth. Now, they’re together in eternity.”

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He can be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.

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