2012-02-16 / News

Island businessman named to MLK Center’s board of trustees

David Howe was selected because of his background, expertise in food safety

Jamestown businessman David Howe has been appointed to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center’s board of trustees. Marilyn Warren, executive director of the Newport nonprofit agency, said she is “thrilled” with the appointment.

“He brings a wealth of knowledge of board development and leadership through his own experience as chair of St. Michael’s Country Day School board of trustees,” she said. “One of the focuses of the center is hunger services and we know he’ll bring many new ideas to the center because of his business and the work he does. We’re excited to see where his vision takes us.”

Howe is an expert on food safety. He said he has served 10 years on the St. Michael’s board, and many of the friends he made at the school also work with the Martin Luther King Center.

They recruited him to be a trustee, he said, probably because they knew his interests and also understood he wanted to devote time and talent to a different demographic. Howe is still involved with St. Michael’s, even though his children, Rebecca, 16, and Timothy, 15, now attend high school. His daughter goes to Mary C. Wheeler School in Providence, and his son attends St. George’s School in Newport.

He did not want to speak about the MLK Center’s programs because he hasn’t completed the orientation yet, he laughed, but he added that the center does important work providing children with quality day school and afterschool programs and also serves the hungry.

Howe said he’s impressed by “the number of meals they serve in a year on a tight budget” and added, “The impact of a dollar over there is probably incomparable.” The MLK Center deserves more support than it receives, he said.

Howe, of Cosmed Group Inc., has lived in Jamestown eight years.

A native of Mansfield, Penn., Howe said Jamestown is like a big city compared to his hometown, which he described as rural and in the middle of nowhere. Mansfi eld was about an hour south of Elmira, N.Y., he said, so he traveled to Elmira to go to the movies and the mall.

Howe’s parents were both professors, but his father also founded the food safety company Howe now runs from his downtown offi ce. (His parents have left the area and now live in Santa Barbara, Calif.)

The company specializes in selling equipment and services to people who want their food pasteurized.

“We sell equipment and we sell services,” he said. “It’s an interesting time in food safety.”

Most of the clients are in spices and almonds, and these ingredients turn up in lots of products. Although almonds may be sold whole – dry or roasted – some manufacturers also slice almonds and use them in cereals, flour, candy and all kinds of foods.

“All of the food manufacturers, especially the largest ones, are demanding any raw agricultural product be pasteurized,” he said.

Food contamination cases have spurred manufacturers to take precautions and make sure their product is safe. “They don’t want people to get sick,” he said, “and they don’t want their brand name associated with a major outbreak.”

Howe, who acknowledged being passionate about food safety, said awareness about food contamination is “at a higher level than ever before.” Government inspectors are scrutinizing foods because the usual suspects – pork, hamburger and chicken – are no longer causing the outbreaks.

“Ten years ago,” he said, “our parents were instructing us to cook pork thoroughly.” And ultimately, everyone has followed that advice. Cases of trichinosis have been virtually eradicated. The last case was in the 1980s, he said. The beef and chicken industries have also improved safety. The likelihood today, he said, is a food contamination outbreak will not be connected to beef, pork or chicken but to “something else,” like cantaloupe.

Between his business and his work at St. Michael’s, Howe stays busy. He will make time for the MLK Center, he said, and if he had more time to give, he would probably work at the Jamestown Community Farm.

Howe and wife Millie moved to Newport around 1997. The Howe family had been living in Newport near Castle Hill, but the Howes decided they wanted to raise their family in Jamestown, instead of the City by the Sea.

“There’s nothing as beautiful as Jamestown,” he said. They never regretted the decision to move even when disaster befell them.

Someone at the Jamestown Press delivered the bad news, he said. His downtown office was next to the newspaper, and an employee ran over and told his dad that Howe’s house was burning. By the time his father arrived at the scene, everything was lost.

Howe and his family weren’t home when the fire broke out. They had been on vacation in Bermuda, celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.

“We landed on our feet,” Howe said. When the family returned, they were able to move into a relative’s house on Ocean Drive. At the time, the authorities believed arson was the cause of the fire, but no one was ever charged.

The community response was overwhelming. Howe remembers he took the children to a Little League game after the fire. All the other parents arrived with suitcases packed with clothes and baseball gear, all for his children to replace the belongings the fire devoured.

“It made a powerful statement about people’s values,” he said.

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