When Harry and Dottie arrived in Cortez they knew they had discovered Paradise. They found a village of friendly neighbors, and schools for their kids, beaches to play on and waters to swim and fish in.
And they thrived, raising three children, Linda, Kathie and Butch; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Now, 50 years later, Harry is incredulous to compliments showered upon him at the opening ceremonies of the 27th annual Cortez Commercial Fishing Festival, Feb. 21. Why should he be cited for doing what any caring, thinking person would do? Follow the golden rule - Do unto others as you would do unto yourself."
"Harry Howie is that special person who cares and respects you," said Cortez Trailer Resident Alma Cockerham. "He would personally greet every resident on their return each year. Harry would also put on a Thanksgiving feast for all residents. I am so impressed with Harry that my two sisters have bought into the trailer park. Harry's a prince."
Allen Garner, president of Florida Institute for Saltwater Heritage (FISH), presented Harry Howie a plaque of appreciation for his "extraordinary community service." While hundreds watched and listened, Harry Howie was extolled as a devoted husband and civic leader.
"Harry represents the best of Cortez," praised Garner. "He has great integrity and compassion."
As the tributes continued, Harry shuffled around the stage with a smile that could melt glass, seemingly counting the seconds when this ordeal would end. Finally he was asked to say a few remarks.
"This award is accepted for all the wonderful Cortezians who make this village so special," said Howie. "We just did what any other neighbor in Cortez would do, help someone in need. Dottie would have loved to have been here today to greet all her friends."
Harry's dreamy blue eyes well up when he recalls his marriage to Dottie, and their happy years together. Then, four years ago Dottie's speech faded away, and she died last July, a loss felt by all.
Their faithful dachshund, Max lies at the foot of Dottie's empty chair, waiting for her return. "Dottie was my life's companion," said Harry.
They met in church when they were teenagers living in Mantua, N.J. The audacity of wooing this popular beauty did not intimidate but inspired Harry in his two-year quest to win Dottie's hand. Finally she relented, and they were married in a quiet ceremony in 1942.
The Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor, and Harry signed up with the Army, eventually served in Europe as a radio operator. A sergeant, he joined Patton's 3rd Army before they crossed the Rhine and defeated Hitler. Harry was on his way to the Pacific, when Truman ordered the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Thanksgiving Day 1945 Howie was discharged and free to return to Dottie.
Harry worked in a chemical refinery, making plastics, while dreaming of a tropical Valhalla.
He was offered a chance to manage a New Jersey coastal motel where they summered. "I asked myself, why not do it myself, and own the park, rather than work for someone." In 1959 the Howie family packed up their '55 Chevy Wagon and spent their extended two-week vacation scouting out parks on the west coast of Florida.
"It was love at first sight," remembered Harry. "We were attracted to Cortez when we first saw this little village." The deal was sealed and Harry and Dottie were the new owners of The Cortez Trailer Park.
Dottie volunteered at Cortez School and Harry at the fire department. "Our kids loved Cortez," Said Harry, sitting in his sun-lit porch with a spectacular view of the Cortez Bridge spanning the sparkling Intracoastal Waterway. "They could swim and fish in the Bay."
Over the years Harry refused several offers to sell the park. Eventually he sold the five-acre park to a family member, who last year sold it to park residents.
"Harry was happy to transfer the park ownership to the residents because he knew Dottie wanted residents to stay in their homes," said Doug Morgan, who lives in the park and was a key negotiator in the sale. "Both Harry and Dottie were happy the park residents could live and enjoy a part of Old Florida."
Plum and Boogie Taylor of Cortez were close friends. Boogie and Harry fought fires, while Plum and Dottie were active in school affairs. Harry and Dottie joined Plum and Boogie at the barricades fighting developers' attempts to buy Cortez gems. They had earned their spurs battling the Net Ban Referendum, Chris Craft's intrusion into the sacred waters and a high-rise bridge that would have stretched over Cortez.
"Dottie was a little angel, spreading her love and joy," recalls Plum. "I felt the need to share her joy."
Joy is what Harry has given to his children. "He's the guy that puts fun in life," said his daughter Kathie. "When we were kids my dad even got dressed up in drag and sold Girl Scouts cookies. That's the kind of dad we had. His greatest legacy is his sense of humor."
What was Dottie and Harry's secret of their 66 years of happy marriage? "We kept saying to one another, 'I love you dear'," confided Harry. "I still tell Dottie, 'I love you, dear.'"
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