Mary has lived in Montevallo all her life and attended school at the university, where both her parents worked. She is now an English teacher at the local high school. While in college, she met her husband Joe, who came to Montevallo by way of Wisconsin on a golf scholarship and is now a CPA.
How to describe Montevallo
Joe: "Mayberry on crack."
Mary: "It’s hometown, Southern, small town…"
Joe: "All sorts of mess!"
Mary: "But with the university, you have so many diverse and interesting people. You have Eclipse, you have the Tavern… you have all of these different types melting in this one town. There can’t possibly be another town like Montevallo because of the university. It brings in so many different types of people and makes it such a unique place to live and a great place to raise kids. We have a 23-year-old and a 19-year-old, and I can’t imagine them growing up anywhere else. Katie would always hang out at Eclipse and met so many interesting people. She is who she is because of the town, as opposed to just being home with us, if that makes sense. You can’t find it anywhere else."
Growing up in Montevallo
Mary: "Growing up here, it was great because Pam and Paula, the Guthrie twins, they had a store downtown for a long time. Growing up, you could go into the store and shop and pick out your clothes and take them home with you. ‘Just take it home and let your mama see it and bring back what you don’t want.’ So that’s what you’d do. I’d go home, do a fashion show for mom and dad, and I’d take everything back and they’d charge it. At Smitherman’s, same thing. When I moved to Birmingham going to UAB, walking into a store that first time and being like, ‘I can’t charge anything. They don’t know me here.’ All I ever knew was people who knew me. It was very strange moving to Birmingham and people not knowing who I was. In some ways it was great, because I can do whatever I want! But the other part is that loneliness you feel. I’m teaching To Kill a Mockingbird right now and it’s that Southern Gothic… I’m trying to explain to a ninth grader what that sense of place is, and they don’t get it right now. But I understand it because Montevallo is my place. I’m comfortable here, I can charge things at Smitherman’s here."
Joe: "Two little idiosyncracies- locals refer to it as ‘the Lucky’s’. Not just Lucky’s, ‘the Lucky’s’. And when they pronounce the name of the town, there’s no hard consonants in it. If you grew up here, it’s ‘Mon-uh-vall-uh’."
Mary: "A friend from Cullman and a friend from Florence… we were sitting around in college and they were cracking on me. They said, ‘you don’t say the name of this town right. It’s Mon-te-vall-o.’ I said, ‘excuse me, I live here. This is my town. It’s Mon-uh-vall-uh. Go back to Florence!’Mon-uh-vall-uh- that’s what it is! When I’m out and about, I’ll say the University of Montevallo. But when you’re hometownin’ it, it’s Mon-uh-vall-uh’. And it is the Lucky’s! And the Eclipse! And the Tav! And Zap’s [Zapopan’s]!"
Joe: "Different vibe living here than going to school here. Much different."
Mary: "I teach at the high school and I tell the kids all the time, ‘you don’t get it.’ It’s a whole different world when you’re inc college there. I don’t know how to explain it."
Joe: "There was a disassociation with the town. It was like you were in a bubble."
Mary: "A bubble of awesomeness! The relationship has changed, though. With Dr. Stewart [the president of the university] and Hollie [Cost, the current mayor]… they’ve brought the university and the school together. When we were in school, it was completely separate, and there was no crossover. Again, growing up here and going to school there… it seemed like a different world.
Joe: "The day after graduating, I was starting working Memphis. I was driving over the hill and looked back in my rearview mirror and saw the old white sign that just got replaced this last year and thought to myself, ‘okay, little old town. You’ve been pretty doggone good to me but I guess this is the end of the road.’ Seven years later, three cities later, a marriage and a child later… here we are. You’re close enough to Birmingham to do whatever you want to do. I don’t know if we’ll ever get rid of this place."
How they met
Mary: "I went to Montevallo my first year, then I went to UAB for a year and a halfish, and I came back. It was ’89 and I was coming back spring semester. I walked in the kitchen and the Montevallo Today was on the kitchen. My mom said, ‘look at this article, I found the boy you’re going to marry!’ And I had just had a terrible breakup. I’m like, ‘I’m not dating anyone!’ There’s a picture of this guy, Joe Howard, in a golf shirt. Accounting major, fraternity boy, golfer… everything I didn’t want in a boy. I was like, ‘first of all, SGA president? I don’t travel in that circle.’ But College Night comes, I was the lead in the show, and the day we struck set he saw me and my friend Meredith and called Meredith that night and said, ‘I need that girl’s number’. I walked in that night and said, ‘Mom, guess who’s gonna call me.’ She says, ‘I know who’s gonna call you, it’s that boy from that magazine!’ Okay, soothsayer! Whatever!"
Joe: "I’m a mail-order husband."
College night Memories
Mary: "I was gold leader in ’91. College night is the greatest thing ever. It’s the best college experience anyone could have. My daughter went to Alabama and I went to homecoming one time… I remember sitting up there in the football stadium and watching the game and I’m like, ‘that’s all you got? I’m sorry, there’s no dancing? No big hand movements?’ I love football, so every now and then I think, I wish I had gone to Alabama or Auburn or something. But then I think, ‘no, idiot, you would have missed out on College Night’ If you don’t go to Montevallo, you can’t explain it. It’s a bond you have with these people that you’ll never find anywhere else. I have a group of friends that range from 24 to 48 and we go on trips together, they spend the night at my house, they show up at 3 o’clock in the morning randomly. Our age doesn’t mean anything because what joins us together is our love for College Night.
This is the 20th anniversary [of being engaged to Joe]. He graduated in ’89 as SGA president and everyone thought we were done because he was graduating and I was still going to be there. But my senior year, I was graduating and I was gold leader, and he got this idea to propose to me on College Night if we won. You know how it is- your side circles up, and we had just won. The sides have their sayings… gold side always asks, ‘why is there always a hole in the circle?’ I asked our director, and she said, ‘I don’t know, ask Joe Howard.’ I thought she was just being silly. I turned to our assistant director and I say, ‘hey, why is there a hole in our circle?’ And he says, ‘you gotta ask Joe.’ And he’s in the middle of the circle. He’s walked through with a dozen roses. I thought, ‘oh, he’s brought me flowers for College Night.’ I walk through the middle of the circle and he asks if I know what’s going on. I’m like, ‘no!’ But he’d always said he’d only give a dozen roses to the girl he was going to propose to. He said, ‘count the roses’, and when he said that I knew. He got down on his knee and he said, ‘you’ve made me happy for these last 2 years… let me make you happy for the rest of your life.’ And everyone started screaming. Everyone knew and nobody told me! "
Changes at the university
Joe: "The university lake was a big deal. There was a student lakehouse and a faculty lakehouse, and that’s where we had all the events."
Mary: "When freshmen would come in, they’d have a big party there. College Night parties were held there. There were a lot of really good memories of the college lake. And the spring fling! We used to have this great thing called the spring fling to raise money for Shelby County Emergency or whatever. Bands would come and they’d start playing at 10 o’clock in the morning. Every group could have a booth- I got stuck making cotton candy one time because I was Sigma Tau Delta president. You could raise money for your group and to raise money to whatever we were raising money for. Talk about the university coming together… everybody was there. We had the Violent Femmes one year."
Joe: "Who was it that played in the basement of Napier? Billy Joel played in the basement!"
Mary: "And The Police! I mean, we’re talking way back. Some band that had that song in Top Gun… Berlin! They came! One of my friends slept with the guitar player. So, very exciting. We had a lot of stuff go on back in the day. You would watch Comer and watch movies. They’d rent reel-to-reel movies and go into that tiny auditorium and it would be packed. Then they moved it up to Farmer. There was a bowling alley in the bottom of Farmer where the publication offices are now. Four lane- I took bowling there! There used to be handball courts where there’s a parking lot now by Bibb Graves. Just a lot of changes, but it’s all good. Everything changes."
Mary: "Let me tell you- I used to work at Calera, and when 3 o’clock came, I was out. But here, because these are my kids and they’re in my community, I love seeing them at the Lucky’s or McDonald’s or whatever. It’s made me a better teacher because these kids are a part of my community. They’re my kids! I can’t imagine teaching anywhere else, because I can’t imagine leaving and coming back and not having the connection with the kids I teach. It’s been a wonderful experience to be in the CVS and hear, ‘Ms. Howard!’ And when the kids that graduate come back and I see them around town, it makes me realize that I’m actually doing something. I’m reaching people."
Joe: "I love being known as Mary Howard’s husband in this town."
The best and worst of Montevallo
Mary: "At its best, it’s the art- the festivals, the farmer’s market on Mondays in the summertime. Any time that anybody is downtown and together and you have the college people and city people and the high school people and they’re all doing their thing. That’s when I love it the most. At its worst…"
Joe: "The town does not have much local industry. Other than the university and the school, there’s no future for some of the local people who have gone through the cracks. Brown Molding used to be a big employer, Seaman Timber used to be a big employer, and most recently the custom furniture place moved up to Pelham. The mining communities that used to be west of year have all but shut down. The wood products industry was the outlier for this community for jobs for years and years and years. It’s moved, it’s not what it used to be, and so there’s not much opportunity. That’s the worst, and I don’t see that changing."
Mary: "I am a Southern girl. I’m down home. I’m comfortable with the person who’s the most country, and I’m comfortable with people from anywhere else. Being a part of Montevallo has helped me because I can adapt to people in the small town, but I can also adapt to people at the university, like the professors who’ve been other places and done other things. It’s made me the person I am because I’m comfortable in my own skin. Having the education I’ve received from the university has made me be able to stand up and talk to anyone, anywhere. The first opportunity I had to travel was through the university- I went to Ireland with one of my professors. I never would have had that opportunity if I didn’t go to the university, and it opened so many doors to where I want to travel."
Joe: "I grew up in a dairy farming community in Wisconsin and when I left here, I worked for the largest CPA firm in the world for 7 years. I didn’t feel like I was making a difference or was helping anybody. Instead of taking the next promotion, which would have been to Chicago or New York or Atlanta, I decided to branch out and buy my own little office in Centerville, Alabama."
Mary: "At the time I was like, ‘seriously? I’m going to be in Montevallo for the rest of my life?’ We had talked about Dallas, Chicago, all these big places. But it comes back to the fact that I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I’m sure I’d be happy, but I’d be a different person."