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Honoring the Legacy of Others

March 22, 2021 - 8 minute read

Mark and Lauri Howell

When the opportunity came to name rooms in the newly-built Borland-Manske Center, retired Los Angeles City firefighter Mark Howell and his wife Lauri chose to honor numerous people who contributed to their faith and love of music.

“Lutheran education enriched my life beyond measure, so we feel honored to be able to do this,” says Lauri. “We are ordinary people God has blessed — we didn’t start a company and we’re not mega-wealthy — but as we come into our older years we have some money to do some wonderful things. It’s strictly God’s doing.”

Lauri’s grandfather, a Lutheran minister, immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1904. Lauri and her two brothers attended Lutheran schools all their lives. 

“I have been very, very blessed by Lutheran education and am passionate about the Lutheran church,” Lauri says. “Lutheran education was one of the most important aspects of my life.” 

She credits Lutheran High School in Los Angeles especially for her passion for Christian education. 

“It was exceptional,” she says. “Those were the happiest times with the finest people and has really contributed to my faith. I still talk to my second grade teacher. I’m still in touch with several teachers from school.” 

One of those teachers was artist Gerald Brommer, Lauri’s art teacher and academic advisor when she served as editor of the high school yearbook. 

Lutheran education enriched my life beyond measure, so we feel honored to be able to do this.

“I kept in touch with Gerald until he passed away in November,” Lauri says. “I considered him a friend as many did who went to Lutheran High.” 

Mark was born and raised in a firefighter’s household in Los Angeles, and followed his father’s footsteps into a 38-year career as a city firefighter. Mark served as an engineer in a fire station in South Central, then spent 22 years on a fire boat in the L.A. Harbor station. 

“We responded to lot of industrial accidents because the equipment is so big and there are thousands of trucks, trains and ships coming in and out,” he says. “There aren’t that many fires in a harbor, but you’re doing a lot of of physical rescues, drownings, trucks going off into the wharfs by accident.” 

The harbor fire station — built on the water with an attached boat house — hosts a 76-foot fire boat which can pump 12,000 gallons of water per minute, far more than what a typical fire engine can do. 

Still, for sheer excitement, Mark enjoyed the assignment in South Central where he responded to many building fires, was involved in “a lot of life saving, and delivered three babies, one in the back of a taxi cab." 

To succeed as a fireman, Mark says, you need more than physical fitness. 

The Howell Family

The Howell Family

“There are times when you’re confronted with something where there’s no supervision and you have to make a decision fast,” he says. “You can’t wait for someone to give you an order. You have to be self-motivated, have discipline and a balance of the two. You adapt at the moment and invent ways of doing something like getting someone down a ladder or out of a room.” 

One incident — a gasoline explosion at close range — could have taken his life within months of marrying Lauri. He and a partner were fighting a garage fire when gasoline stored there exploded.

“The fireball was huge and I could see it coming at me from ten feet away,” Mark recalls. “There’s nothing you can do. We tried to drop to the ground but you get caught. You can’t outrun an explosion when it’s that close to you.”

Protective equipment was much more primitive then, and Mark sustained second-degree burns to exposed parts of his face, wrists and ankles; but he was otherwise unharmed. Surprisingly, Lauri — who was just 21 years old — wasn’t shaken when she got the 3 a.m. knock at the door from the fire captain to deliver the news of Mark’s injury.

“We had been married three months, and it made me feel like, yes, he could die at any minute, but I gained strength from it rather than becoming fearful,” she says.

Facing the risk of his profession at such a young age forced her to make peace with what could happen, which served her well throughout the rest of his career, she says.

It was in 1997, when Lauri’s mother passed away, that she found herself shaken and sensing a need to reconnect with her faith after some years away from church.

“I felt there was something missing in my life and I started going back to church,” she says. “I was really hungry to reconnect.”

At first, she watched Christian television and listened to Christian radio programs when Mark wasn’t there. Then she began attending church when he was away on shift.

“I was kind of embarrassed,” she admits. “I didn’t really know what was happening to me, to be honest. One day I told Mark, ‘I’m going to churches when you’re at work,’ and he surprised me by saying he wanted to go, too. It became a journey for us to find a church.”Together, they began visiting local congregations.

“I said, ‘I am going to every Lutheran church within a half hour of us,’” Lauri says with a laugh. “It was a wonderful broadening to rediscover my Lutheran theology. As an adult it took on greater meaning. I was very, very thirsty to hear the word of God.”

She also developed what she calls “Lutheran radar” as a result of running into an inexplicable number of Lutheran friends in that time period. “I would run into someone I went to school with, or someone who knew somebody,” she says. “It was God putting me in these positions.” 

At one church they were visiting, Lauri heard a familiar voice: Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, who she recognized from the White Horse Inn radio program of which she had become a regular listener. At that same church the Howells met a number of CUI faculty, staff and students and began attending Christmas concerts on campus and concerts throughout the year. 

“Mark and I are very fond of classical music and choral music, and Concordia does it brilliantly,” she says. “We were so excited. We thought, we have world-class music right at our doorstep.”

They also participated in CUI’s Gala of Stars, donating and bidding on items. In time, they felt like part of the CUI community. 

“It was the quality of people, such integrity, such solid Christians,” Lauri says. “They have high standards in everything they do. The way they present themselves, the kindness, the thoroughness, the high quality.” 

Mark and I are very fond of classical music and choral music, and Concordia does it brilliantly.

The Howells were eager to support the Borland-Manske Center as it greatly improved and expanded Concordia’s facilities for music and theology programs.

“We’re very excited to become part of the BMC,” Lauri says. “Attending a public college, I saw the huge difference between Christian education and public education. My eyes were opened to the value of being taught from a Christ-centered worldview. It’s a big, big difference.” 

The Howells chose to name one room after Lauri’s childhood piano teacher, an old German immigrant who took Lauri to concerts and instilled in her a love for fine music. 

“Having that connection with classical music is one of the best parts of my life,” Lauri says. “I saw one of the studios for practicing piano and thought, ’I want Mrs. Exner’s name on this.’ She had many students who loved her as much as I did.” The other music room they named for her parents, and they also supported two rooms in the Christ College wing, naming them for Lauri’s grandfather and his best friend from seminary, Henry Schmitt, who was involved in starting Lutheran churches in Los Angeles, including St. Paul’s First Lutheran in North Hollywood. Gerald Brommer was a member of St. Paul’s for more than forty years. 

“I thought about who was important to me and who enriched my life, and certain people popped into mind and we wanted to honor them,” Lauri says.

Today, Mark is an active volunteer at two fire station museums, in Hollywood and San Pedro. He creates fascinating cabinet displays of such items as old diving gear, fire nozzles, rescue gear and more — much of it donated from his extensive private collection of antique fire equipment. The museums boast two 1923 fire engines with beautiful brass and gold leafing, both of which could still run to a fire, though they mostly travel in parades. The Hollywood museum has a horse-drawn steamer and steam pumper. “They look like a station would have looked fifty or eighty years ago,” Mark says. 

At the harbor location, Mark and a team are restoring a 100-foot-long fire-boat from 1925. They also give many tours to kids and groups from retirement homes. 

“The kids really love it,” Mark says. “When they show up they really go cuckoo because there’s fire stuff everywhere. We are all volunteer retired firemen who love the job, and this is a way to contribute.” 

I thought about who was important to me and who enriched my life, and certain people popped into mind and we wanted to honor them.

The Howells have donated private museum tours as auction items at CUI’s Gala of Stars. Jon Howard ’04, associate director of development, says Concordia is grateful for the Howells’ partnership in the Gala, and in making the Borland-Manske Center happen. 

“Mark and Lauri Howell have an incredible heart for Lutheran ministry. They see the importance of music and ministry to a growing University,” Howard says. “They have designated a vast majority of their estate to support several Lutheran organizations. I’m honored that Concordia Irvine is one of them and excited to welcome them as the newest members of our Great Commission Society. They want to make sure that their gifts continue to benefit students for a long time.” 

The Howells, who now attend Light of Christ Lutheran Church in Irvine and continue to enjoy operas and live music by Beethoven, Verdi and other favorite composers, say they consider it “such an incredible honor to be involved in this way and pass on a Lutheran legacy. It’s not our legacy but a legacy of Lutherans and those people who have gone before us.” 

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