LaVerne Ballard Howell was born in Sabine County, Texas, in 1908. Her parents were James Carroll Ballard and Annie Sweet Ballard. Her husband, Thomas Allen Howell, was known as Tommy most of his life. He was born in Ben Wheeler, Texas, in Van Zandt County, on November 30, 1913, to James Edward and Leticia Ann West Howell.
LaVerne and Thomas Howell were married in Pampa, Texas, in 1940 where he had been working for the Lee C. Moore Company until a recent move to Corpus Christi. He was associated with the company in Corpus Christi at the time of their wedding, and the newlyweds moved there after their wedding trip. The Lee C. Moore Company was an oil field equipment company. Advertising in 1935 lists it as a source of “steel derricks since 1908”.
LaVerne Ballard had graduated from Tyler (Texas) Commercial College and attended Stephen F. Austin College in Nacogdoches. She was employed as a secretary by the Texas Railroad Commission in Pampa for eight years before her wedding there. Her mother, Mrs. James Carroll Ballard, lived in San Augustine, Texas, at the time, and her father had died January 23, 1936.
Thomas Howell was a 1930 graduate of Grand Saline High School in Grand Saline, Texas, near Ben Wheeler. He had attended Tyler Junior College and East Texas State Teacher’s College at Commerce. In 1941 he went to work for Temple Lumber Company in Corpus Christi, then served in the U.S. Army during World War II. In 1943 he left Temple to form Howell-Cole Lumber Company, and in 1963 he bought all interest in the company and incorporated the Thomas A. Howell Lumber Company.
Tommy operated the Thomas A. Howell Lumber Company at 3909 South Port in Corpus Christi for 36 years, from 1953 until his retirement and the company’s liquidation in 1989. He was elected president of the Coastal Bend Retail Lumber Dealers’ Association twice, and he was a board member of the Lumbermen’s Association of Texas for eight years. In 1987 he was elected Lumberman of the Year for the state of Texas.
In Corpus Christi LaVerne was employed for many years by the Humble Oil Company (later Exxon) in their downtown office in the Wilson Tower. Her 1970 retirement celebrated 28 years as a mentor and educator of young petroleum engineers who worked for Humble. She acquired the nickname “Mother” and “Tillie” or “Till”, as evidenced by several warm and humorous letters written in her honor on the occasion of her retirement. Her duties in the office involved pressure records for wells. Her practical knowledge was passed on to young, green engineers who were learning the technical side of the business. Even when she was in her nineties, Tillie Howell enjoyed the company of young people, one of the secrets of her long and active life.
Tommy and Tillie Howell built a vacation home on Key Allegro in 1971, one of the first homes built in that development. The Rockport house was the scene of many happy gatherings of family and friends. They also had a ranch property where they raised cattle. The home they built together on McClendon Street in Corpus Christi was gracious and a testimony to Tommy’s knowledge of construction and materials. They enjoyed travel together throughout their long marriage. The Key Allegro house was trimmed with Asian architectural touches, and the rooms were decorated with many items they had collected on their travels.
The Howells were long time, loyal members of First United Methodist Church of Corpus Christi. After Tommy Howell died on October 26, 1995, Mrs. Howell made a substantial gift to the church in Tommy’s memory. The Howell Maintenance Fund is a tribute to his knowledge and concern for the physical plant at the large downtown church. It is typical of Tillie Howell that she had to be coaxed to allow a plaque to be placed in the church in gratitude for the Howells’ contribution. Even then, she did not want a “fuss” to be made over the gift.
Tillie Howell was known for successfully following the stock market and investing, according to letters in her retirement scrapbook, well before 1970. Later in life, when she was in her nineties, she continued to follow the market each day and enjoyed discussing stocks with her bank trustee. She drove her own car until the last year or two of her life, and most days she enjoyed going out for lunch or social occasions with her friends.
She died December 18, 2001, in Corpus Christi, Nueces County, Texas, at the age of 93. The Howells had no children. Through LaVerne “Tillie” Howell’s vision and generosity, a charitable foundation was set up to continue giving to their church and her parents’ home church, other Christian endeavors, and the health and financial needs of less fortunate Nueces County residents.