The Perfect Fit | By Kelly Twedell
● Published by Anonymous
Marshall and Betty Howie found a way to downsize a lifetime of possessions and mementos without sacrificing style.
After 20 years in one house, it wasn’t an easy decision, but the Howies had an eye on the future. They made the transition to their posh, single-level home at the Carolina Highlands last summer. The Highlands are part of Village Green Resort, a sprawling development near the corner of Village Drive and Robeson Street and a vision of Dr. Franklin Clark who first formed this community for older adults in the early 1980s. He dreamed of a place that would meet families’ changing needs as they aged. Now, the resort is growing even larger with the addition of environmentally-friendly homes known as Meadow Walk which will be centered on a pond and fitness trail.
The Howies remained on Village Green’s waiting list for two years, time Betty used to gently coax Marshall away from their beloved two-story Haymount home on Devane Street.
“We have absolutely just loved this unit,” she says. “We have not been a bit unhappy in our own little space since we’ve been here.”
Today, Betty and Marshall Howie defy any stereotype of what it means to be “senior citizens.” A packed calendar of events hangs on the refrigerator: aerobics, men’s breakfasts, bridge, movies, knitting. At night, they enjoy evening meals prepared by a professional chef and on occasion pop into Highland Country Club for a change of pace. While Marshall performs his duties as president of the resident association, Betty is equally involved as coordinator for the association’s social activities. He is a member of the board of directors at Cape Fear Regional Theatre. She is a constant presence on the music scene.
That’s not to say there weren’t adjustments to moving. Betty traded some of her large dining room set for smaller pieces of furniture from her daughter Emily to better fit the new space and ensure that the keepsakes stayed in the family. And then there was the matter of Betty’s autographed Steinway & Son, one of four cherished baby grand pianos Betty has owned in her life. She has loved her Lester, Wurlitzer and Baldwin, but the Steinway with its tufted double bench holds a special place.
Her parents bought her first piano when she was only five, and Betty brought a love of music to her marriage to Marshall in 1951. She enjoys entertaining and often performs recitals for friends in the living room. She recently took her talents a step further by writing and producing a musical in April for her church, Highland Presbyterian, where Marshall serves as an elder.
The Howies beautifully transformed their home so it reflects their classical style. They added crown molding and white plantation shutters throughout the house. Tapestry-style wallpaper accents the entryway. White countertops in the kitchen were exchanged for black. Several oriental and hand-hooked rugs grace the dark hardwood floors, tying the colors together. The Howies have always taken an interest in local artists, and several rooms feature oil paintings by a family friend, the late Nina D. Johnston.
While Marshall prefers to stay cool indoors in the converted third bedroom which serves as his den, Betty enjoys basking on the veranda off the formal living room where she tends to her potted plants and flowers.
Downsizing did not mean the Howies had to forgo storage space either. Their master bedroom walk-in closet serves as Betty’s dressing room. Betty jokes that Marshall has more clothes, but it’s clear that Betty fancies shoes. A quilt stand next to the poster-style bed holds family heirloom quilts, including Betty’s baby quilt made by her grandmother. Betty modestly claims that her family’s sewing abilities were lost on her yet she handcrafts intricate angels, each with a unique story. Pieced together from bits of heirloom wedding gowns, antique tablecloths and intricate cloth napkins, the angels are adorned with beads, antique laces and other baubles.
For years, Betty has made these one-of-a-kind creations for friends, members of her church and also as birthday gifts for the ladies at the Carolina Highlands. Many years from now, it will be a way to remember these pillars of the community.
“I cannot think of one without thinking of the other, they are an amazing team,” says the Rev. Ernie Johnson, senior pastor of Highland Presbyterian. “Betty loves developing musical venues that both entertain and inspire, and they both give 100 percent and are able to pull off quite a few projects through their hard work.”