Recently a cousin of mine, who grew up in Pittsford and is now a fine artist and teacher living in Florence, Italy, suggested that I might write a column about a man who made an impact on many young children and students in the community. So, I looked through my records and accounts to find information on Howard Little to try to transmit to those of you who did not grow up in Pittsford, the warm and friendly feelings felt by many when we remember that kind man.
Howard was born in Pittsford and grew up on a small farm on State Street. His father's name was Frank and his mother's name was Anna. I have many accounts of schoolboy memories when Howard was a star on the basketball team. According to Howard, Pittsford didn't have a basketball team until He and his friends started one about 1914. They played towns such as Newark and Brockport. I have no idea how that team of seven boys got to Newark this particular evening, but they did and they were invited to stay overnight. The year was 1916 and while they were there, the Lincoln Avenue school burned completely to the ground. It must have been an amazing sight when those seven students returned to their town and saw a smoldering pile of rubble where their school had been.
The school that burned had been built in 1892. It was a brick building, consisting of 12 classrooms including a library of 16,000 volumes and a "fine" laboratory on the top floor. The loss was estimated at $25,000 with $17,000 covered by insurance. Nothing was saved except a broom and a snow shovel. The fire that began in the early morning hours got a raging start due to the failure of an electric fire alarm.
The citizens of Pittsford were resolved that their children should not have their education interrupted for long. Buildings and churches in the village were used to house the classes and Howard tells about how it was his job and a few others who had to screw the desks into the floors at the Town Hall, the Fire Hall, and the Masonic Temple where school classes would be held until a new school could be built. That school was begun very shortly and was almost completed in 1917 while the date on the building shows 1918. It must have been a difficult year for the teachers and the students.
In his senior year of high school, Howard became a hero. It seems there was a tradition of class fights between the juniors and seniors near the end of the school year. The juniors had hung banners on poles and posts around town and a classmate of Howard's climbed a pole and touched an electric wire which caused him to "black out". Howard saw the need for quick action; he climbed the pole and with his rubber soled shoes was able to kick the wire away, grabbed his friends clothes and held on to his friend until help arrived. Howard was pretty shaken and didn't know how he was going to tell his parents about his experience. He was later awarded a medal and a cash award from the Carnegie Heroes Commission.
Growing up Howard worked many odd jobs. While working on one of the farms, he met the love of his life, Anna Bryant. They were married and bought a house on West Jefferson Road. Anna worked at several clothing stores, including Sibley's and The National Clothing Store. When Anna's parents became ill and needed help, Howard and his wife moved to their home on South Main Street, now the Williams Insurance Company, where they lived when most of the kids in town remember Anna and Howard had one daughter, Helen who has married and moved away.
Howard worked for ten or twelve years at the Victor Flour Mill on Schoen's Alley. When the depression hit and times were bad, that company told Howard he should look for work someplace else. He became the custodian at the Lincoln Avenue School and it was there that so many students remember Mr. Little, sometimes called Mr. Big because that's how important he was to the students who grew to love him for his quiet, gentle ways. He was always there if advice was needed or if a child had an accident, he cleaned it up with good humor and a twinkle in his eye that made the little one feel that everything was all right. He loved to talk but would take time to listen to others.
Howard decided it was time to retire. His loving wife had died, his daughter had married Richard Smallwood and moved away and he felt the time was right. However, he was asked to take what he thought would be a temporary part time job as crossing guard at Jefferson Road School, which lasted for ten years, and another whole generation of children would grow to know and love Mr. Little.
Howard lived all of his life in the community in which he was born and for many years in that same house on South Main Street. Friends in the village helped him celebrate his 90th birthday with cake and candles and many pleasant greetings. Howard died in 1984 and is buried in the cemetery next to his wife in the town that he loved.