Cover photo for John Wingspread Howell's Obituary
John Wingspread Howell Profile Photo

John Wingspread Howell

November 14, 1954 — February 5, 2023

Shaker Heights

John Wingspread Howell

John was born in a snowstorm in Springville, NY, on November 14, 1954, to Duane and Vera Howell. John grew up on the family dairy farm in Delevan, NY, which has been and remains in the family since 1921. The farm with a high hill and extensive woodlands provided a fertile place for John’s imagination and for long walks with the transistor radio, his favorite music playing loudly. He became a big brother to David Howell in 1960 and the two were close despite their age difference as they grew.

John’s first memory, a trip to New York City with his parents when he was two and a half, forged his fascination with skyscrapers, city lights, and city life. His best memories with his family were the many road trips taken around Canada, the Northeast, Midwest, Florida, and the side trip to the Rockies on his way to college in Oklahoma.

John graduated from Pioneer Central School in 1972 where he served as Assistant Sports Editor of the school paper, The Panther’s Paw, and played two years on the soccer team. He went on to Bethany Nazarene College (now Southern Nazarene University) where he graduated in 1976 with a major in Language Arts. John received the Outstanding English Major award at graduation and was also inducted into the school’s honor society, Alpha Nu. He won recognition for news reporting on the campus paper, Revile Echo, from the Oklahoma Collegiate Press Association.

John was married to Letha Skilling in 1974 until 1991, and they had two children—Heath Downing, born in 1978, and Ivy Noel, born in 1982. Heath married Katy Pribble in 2001 and gave John two grandchildren, Amelia and Zoey. Ivy married Jarrod Walters in 2013 and gave John two more grandchildren, Noelle and Jackson.

John moved to Durango, Colorado after graduation and spent the next two years moving around Colorado while he worked for the Free Methodist Church of North America. After returning to Buffalo to work in an urban ministry project, John attended Colgate Rochester Divinity School in Rochester, NY where he earned a Master of Divinity with an emphasis in theology and psychology.

 John was ordained to the clergy of the United Church of Christ and established himself as a specialist in marketing and membership recruitment by developing a program attractive to people without a church affiliation or who were alienated from the church by previous bad experiences. He served as pastor to churches in Pulaski, NY, Santa Fe, NM and Kenosha, WI, near Chicago. While in Santa Fe, John was appointed Chair of the Legislative Task Force of the New Mexico Conference of Churches, often working with Governor Toney Anaya on issues of social justice. The highlight of that experience was sharing the podium with Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union, as he re-launched the California Table Grapes Boycott at the New Mexico state capitol building. During this time, John published several gender-neutral prayers, readings, and responses for worship as part of a collection of worship resources entitled Touch Holiness published by Pilgrim Press.

 In 1991, John left the ministry and the Christian faith due to struggles with trauma suffered in his youth. He struggled with depression and, on October 15, 1991, attempted suicide. That experience led to a reaffirmation of his love of life and a commitment to healing which continued throughout the rest of his life. The first thing he did to reaffirm life was take four solo trips to Europe within a year.

 On one of those trips, he met his wife and the love of his life, Maria Cecilia Arza, on a plane from Chicago to Paris in 1992. They were married in 1993 and had a child, Maria Victoria (Marivi) Howell-Arza, in 1997.

John established a career in mental health and social services for most of the rest of his professional life. While working for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, John developed an expertise in investigating sexual and serious physical abuse cases and was appointed to a special statewide commission to develop a training curriculum for law enforcement and social workers to interview children who have been severely abused.

John converted to Roman Catholicism in 2000 and served as a lector and eucharistic minister in the three parishes to which he belonged—Holy Apostles, McHenry, Illinois; Our Lady of Victory Basilica, Lackawanna (Buffalo), New York; St. Dominic’s in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

 From 2006-2014, John experimented with three different entrepreneurial ventures. John worked as a financial representative for Northwestern Mutual and earned the Rep of the Year Award for his district and achieved Million Dollar Roundtable status within three years. He lost his business due to the Great Recession of 2008.

 John returned to Buffalo in 2010 to launch NxtArrow, a private economic development company designed to recruit startups and entrepreneurs to Buffalo. He was able to raise funds for a prototype which was successful but was unable to raise more funding for full operations. However, his business plan became the model for a venture by the Empire State Development Corporation which has been very successful in making Buffalo a startup hub.

John returned to child protection work for the Erie County Department of Social Services in 2015 before retiring in 2017 due to illness.

 Throughout his adult life, John considered himself a writer first and foremost. He published four novels: Naked in Church, The Goddess Patrol, St. Jude’s Gospel, and City of Blight. For the last several years, John wrote a frequent column/blog/newsletter called Howelling at the Moon in which he discussed whatever was top of mind, whether spiritual, psychological, political, or sports related. He wrote candidly about his life, his beliefs, experiences, and passions. He received much positive response from these writings and considered his column to be his new pulpit and his social media audience to be his congregation.

John felt that he had wasted the first half of his adult life pursuing professional and material success and, after some soul searching, rededicated his life to be the best father and husband he could be. He was extremely proud of all three of his children and their many accomplishments and took great joy in his relationships with their spouses and his grandchildren. Heath has established himself as an expert in property and casualty insurance and has been called upon to help with claims after many of the major disasters which have occurred in the United States this century. Ivy obtained her PhD in Spanish with a specialty in Spanish musical theater of the Golden Age from Indiana University and has been a college professor since obtaining her doctorate. She has also been a sought-after presenter at academic conferences. Marivi obtained her B.A. from Duke University in Arabic, and her Master of Science in Social Administration (M.S.W. equivalent) at Case Western Reserve University. She is now a psychotherapist and program coordinator for a partial hospitalization program for eating disorders.

 In 2016, John was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma. A malignant tumor was removed from his right eye at Cleveland Clinic. In 2018, the cancer metastasized to his liver. He underwent immunotherapy at Roswell Park Cancer Center in Buffalo and later at Taussig Cancer Center/Cleveland Clinic until he decided to stop treatment and enter hospice at home. John was part of a clinical trial that resulted in the approval of a new cancer drug for general use. That drug extended John’s life well beyond the original expectation of 18-24 months when he was first diagnosed, and John was very grateful to have had the opportunity to help develop this drug which will extend the lives of melanoma patients.

In 2021, John and Maria moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio to be near their daughter, Marivi. With this move, John had resided in seven states in the East, West, Southwest, and Midwest.

 John has requested donations, in lieu of flowers, to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, 66 Elm St., Buffalo, NY 14203 or Taussig Cancer Center, c/o Cleveland Clinic. 10201 Carnegie Ave., Cleveland, OH 44106.  He felt very grateful for the loving personal care he received from the treatment teams at both facilities.

John is survived by his loving wife, Maria; his children, Heath (Katy), Ivy (Jarrod), and Marivi; his grandchildren, Amelia, Zoey, Noelle, and Jackson, as well as his brother David (Kelly). John is also survived by Maria’s siblings, their spouses, and many nieces and nephews in both the Howell and Arza families. He loved them all.

A Funeral Mass will be held Saturday, February 18th at 10 am in The Church of St. Dominic, 19000 Van Aken Blvd., Shaker Heights, OH.



Past Services


Friday, February 17, 2023

6:00 - 8:00 pm (Eastern time)

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Saturday, February 18, 2023

10:00 - 11:00 am (Eastern time)

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