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Shari Howe, 'passionate' Peace Corps worker

  • Article by: David Peterson
  • Star Tribune
  • August 15, 2007 - 10:41 PM

Shari Howe, who late in her life leaped from the conventional path she had followed as a Minnesota turkey farmer's daughter into a global existence training hundreds of Peace Corps volunteers, died last weekend after fighting a rare nervous system ailment. She was 67.

"She was teaching at the University of Minnesota in Crookston, a nice job, a good, safe job, a good living," said her sister Karen, of Hampton, "and then one day she just said, 'Goodbye, I'm going to the Peace Corps,' for something like $2,000 a year. She sent us homemade Christmas gifts made of seashells from Jamaica - she didn't have any money."

The encounter with foreign cultures changed her, as it does many Americans, and drew her into a whole new career, said Raquel Aronhime, of Burlington, Vt., who worked with her at the organization's headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Though Howe couldn't have been more aware of the hazards of that life, having been attacked with a machete, Aronhime said, "she was always positive and optimistic. She always made a great impression."

Howe had Shy-Drager syndrome, a disorder of unknown cause in which many parts of the nervous system degenerate. It causes movement disorders, and in that and other ways, is similar to Parkinson's. It develops in adulthood, is usually fatal and strikes men far more often than women.

Howe was born Shari Lyn Landers in Fulda, in southwestern Minnesota, and studied to become a dental hygienist at the University of Minnesota. The medical part of her life led her to become a member, for most of the 1970s, of the board of directors of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota, said Jan Hennings, a company spokeswoman.

But she also developed a parallel career as a horse farm manager, which got her into teaching equine science in Crookston in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1991, she joined the Peace Corps program and was sent to Jamaica.

"I think she had an inner urge, an inner voice, that said 'There's more outside what I'm experiencing right now,'" said Laurette Bennhold-Samaan of Arlington, Va., a close colleague for several years who traveled the world with Howe.

"I remember once in the Pacific islands, at an evening entertainment with dancers, Shari getting up and dancing right along with them," she said. "That was her style: passionate and full of life."

She later trained many others to do the same sort of work, until she retired and returned to Minnesota in 2005.

Besides her sister Karen, survivors include sons Robert of Vail, Colo., and Charles of Victoria, Minn.; daughters Rae of Crookston, Minn., and Lea of Washington, D.C.; boyfriend Jimmy, of Jamaica; ex-husband Robert Howe, of Fargo, N.D., and sister Jill, of Minneapolis.

Services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at Washburn-McReavy Chapel, 2610 19th Av. NE., Minneapolis.

David Peterson • 612-673-4440

David Peterson • dapeterson@startribune.com

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