In memory of her son, Kearney woman plants seeds for the future

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The Dr. David Howe Memorial Scholarship Fund helps UNK students who go on to medical school at UNMC.

When a rose was ready, Dr. David Howe would cut it, place it in a vial with water and give it to a patient.

He was an oncologist.

One known for his kind heart.

He was farmer at heart who liked to watch things grow.

“He connected the roses to the spiritual life of growing,” says his mother, Nevabelle Howe of Kearney, Nebraska. “I asked him one day, ‘Why go into oncology? Why not family practice instead, because you’re so compassionate?’ (Way back then, we didn’t have the medicines that now extend life, and oncology seemed so morbid to me.)

“But David said, ‘Mom, everybody is dying from the time they’re born. It’s the period of life you have – and what you do with it – that matters.’”

David Howe had grown up on the family farm north of Kearney. He’d watch the summers arrive and the plants thrive. He’d watch the green world die and fall to the ground.

He’d watch things grow again in the spring.

He was smart.

He would play games with himself in his mind while driving the tractor, cultivating the fields. He’d call his mother on the two-way radio.

… Mom, do you know how long it takes for a rifle bullet to get to its target? … Mom, do you know how much an inch of rain weighs over an acre of land? …

Nevabelle smiles.

“I’d say, ‘I don’t know, David, and I don’t care!’”

He was shy.

During his undergraduate days at UNK (Kearney State back then), he’d sit in his car over lunchtime and study rather than try to make small talk in the cafeteria.

He was intense.

He pushed himself to the limits.

In the spring of 1975, while David was carrying 20 hours at UNK and preparing for his MCAT exams, his father, Andy, became too ill to farm. David took over, sleeping just three hours a night.

He earned a double major in three years at UNK, in biology and chemistry, and then moved on to UNMC’s medical school, where he compressed four years into three.

He told his mom, when she’d asked, that he was way too busy to date.

It just wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

But God had other plans.

David met a young woman in Omaha, a fellow med student at UNMC. Her name was Janet.

He fell in love.

He also made time to visit every rose garden in Omaha that he could find.

He and Janet moved to Hastings. She became a pediatrician. He started his oncology practice. They started their family and had three kids.

He planted a large rose garden at their home.

Only God knows when He’s ready to take you home.

That’s what David would tell his patients.

He prayed for them and with them, Nevabelle says, because prayer matters.

He gave them hope.

He gave them great care. (One of his terminally ill patients returned one day from getting a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic. That patient told David what a doctor up there had told him – that he already had received the opinion of the nation’s No. 1 oncologist, in David.)

He gave them his roses.

David was like his father, Andy, a farmer who died five years ago.

“They both got 48 hours out of every 24,” Nevabelle says. “That was David’s philosophy – live every day to the fullest.

“He felt that cancer patients were often the most wonderful people he ever would deal with, because they knew their time was short, and they were living their life to the fullest.”

David died on the Fourth of July, 2001.  Nevabelle and Andy were with David and David’s son, Nathan, just the night before, during a Fourth of July celebration in Kearney. They watched as the dark sky bloomed with fireworks.

“David was such as scientist,” Nevabelle says. “He was telling me, all throughout those fireworks, how those fireworks were made – how the different colors were made, how blue was the most difficult one to make.

“He was telling me about the light waves and so forth. That was David.”

His latest passion had been ultra-light airplanes. He had just earned his certification to fly one. His plane was red, white and blue.

It fell from the sky.


He was just 47.

They buried him in Hastings.

His mother couldn’t believe it.

She asked God why.

Where were David’s angels?

“For several days after, I’d wake up two or three times a night and shake Andy awake. I’d say, ‘David is alive, isn’t he? That was just a dream, right?’”

But faith, she says, isn’t something you just put on every Sunday. And their faith got them through it.

They started a scholarship in his name at UNK. Each year, it goes to a pre-med student at UNK who will go to UNMC for med school, just like David. Over the years, they received many thank-you notes from those students.

One day, years after starting the scholarship, Nevabelle took her husband’s elderly cousin to a doctor’s appointment. When the doctor told Nevabelle his name, it rang a bell:

She’d read that name on a thank-you note.

Where did you get your pre-med degree?

UNK. Why do you want to know?

Did you get the David Howe Scholarship?


Well, I’m David’s mother!

“He was so excited to meet me,” Nevabelle says, “and I was so excited to meet him.

“At the time David was killed he was president of the Nebraska Oncology Board, and he’d already done so much in his life. But sometimes I think he may have touched more people in death than he did in life, especially because of this scholarship.”

And David, she says, would have loved to watch this garden grow.
If you also would like to give to the Dr. David Howe Memorial Scholarship Fund – to help UNK students going to UNMC med school – please consider giving online or contact the foundation’s Anne McConkey at 800-432-3216.

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