Never met the man, but I’ve heard much about him from a few friends and acquaintances around campus including Captain Conley. He was a dear friend to Bo, in fact, I’ve been told he was his best friend here in town. Re-posting his obituary from AnnArbor.com/MLive:
Howard really didn’t know every person in Ann Arbor. But as legendary University of Michigan Football Coach Bo Schembechler was quick to say: “Anyone from Ann Arbor who says they don’t know Howard Wikel must be living in a cave.”
Bo was one of Howard’s best friends. In fact, he was a trusted friend to everyone in the football program and the entire athletic department for the last 70 years. The entire university is saddened at his loss.
Wikel, 89, passed away peacefully March 10 at his Ann Arbor home. “They ought to name an award after Howard,” said Jim Conley, captain of the 1965 Rose Bowl team. “That’s how much he meant to all of us.” Wikel was a giver. One of those guys who thoroughly enjoyed doing favors for others long before doing something for himself. “If someone was fortunate enough to meet Howard Wikel and spend an hour with him, you became his friend for life. He invented networking, long before computers were invented,” Conley said.
“Howard, my adopted father, taught me and everyone he touched the art of giving, laughing, happiness, leadership and success – and all came from his heart,”, says Bob Gray, MVP of the 1964 NCAA Final Four Hockey Tournament.
Athletes were always looking to earn money through summer jobs before the upcoming season began. Being the entrepreneur that he was, Howard, Dan Dierdorf and Pete Newell established a painting company to provide summer employment opportunities for Michigan athletes. Many of them were hired as painters. And Wikel provided the customers, too. “I remember one summer when we painted ten houses,” said Dan Dierdorf, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the National Football League Hall of Fame. “They were all neighbors and friends who Howard convinced that their houses needed a paint job.”
During the winter, the athletes put away their paint brushes and went to their shovels. They shoveled snow throughout Wikel’s neighborhood to keep all streets and sidewalks safe and clean. Because of his kindly personality, Wikel had a limitless number of contacts throughout Ann Arbor and the nation. “Howard was a great matchmaker,” Conley explained. “If someone came to him with a problem, he immediately had someone who could step in to help.” Big or small, he never turned away any request.
Wikel was a superb athlete himself. For Michigan, he played football under Coach Fritz Crisler and baseball under Coach Ray Fisher. He liked to laugh at himself talking about his biggest game in football that occurred on his 20th birthday in 1943 against Wisconsin in the Big House. “In the second half, my number was called to carry the ball,” he said. “Don Lund said it was only a three or four or five yard run. But the older I get, the longer that run was.”
As captain and shortstop of the baseball team, Wikel did get a few offers to play professionally. But he didn’t want to wander from his Ann Arbor home and the university he so loved. With his athletic career finished, Wikel turned to golf and turned into one of the most successful amateurs throughout the state. Playing at his best, he was a scratch golfer who had eight holes-in-one. He was a life-time member at Barton Hills Country Club, active with the Golf Association of Michigan, the Michigan Seniors and he still maintained a single-digit handicap when he was 75 years old.
Wikel came to love the sport and served on various amateur and club committees. He proudly served as the driving force behind Bo’s charity golf tournament, the Millie Schembechler Memorial Golf Classic, to raise funds for Adrenal Cancer. He served on the board of directors for the University of Michigan Alumni Association and Michigamua. He also was a founding member of Michigan’s Victors Club. Except for (1943-47) when he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Wikel spent his entire life in Ann Arbor. He graduated from the University of Michigan School of Pharmacy in 1952. Howard and wife, Betty Eastman Wikel were married for 62 years. Betty died on February 19, 2011.
Howard is survived by daughters, Susan Jordan, Laurie Garoutte, Cindy Thackaberry; and son, David Wikel; eight grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and special family members, Jim Conley, Dan Dierdorf, Bob Gray, and their families. The Wikel name will live forever in Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan. A memorial service will be held on Friday, April 26th, 10:30 AM at the First Presbyterian Church, 1432 Washtenaw Avenue, Ann Arbor with a luncheon to follow. Additional parking and shuttle service will be available at the Forest Avenue Parking Structure, 650 South Forest Avenue. Memorial contributions may be made to the University of Michigan Athletic Department-Howard Wikel Scholarship Fund, or to Arbor Hospice. To share a memory, please visit vermeulenfuneralhome.com.
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