On Saturday, December 6, the Cross Plains Public Library is honoring Joan McCowen for her many years of dedication and service. Joan was a member of the original board that incorporated the library in 1978 (it opened its doors in February 1979), and she has served in various capacities for the past thirty years, as president, secretary, or treasurer of the Friends of the Library and the libraryâ€™s board.Â Until this year, when failing health intervened, she had missed only one meeting in 29 years. She was also a tireless volunteer, as was her husband, Alton.
In addition to all her work for the library, Joan has been a dedicated officer and volunteer for Project Pride and Robert E. Howard Days. In fact, Joan was the first person I actually met in Cross Plains, and it was from that chance meeting that Robert E. Howard Days sprang.
On another Saturday, March 22, 1986, I was returning to Houston from a business trip to Dallas but decided to take the long way around and pass through Cross Plains and Brownwood. I had taken on the planning for a REHupa trip to Cross Plains in June of that year, and several people, including Graeme Flanagan of Canberra, Australia, had committed to attending, so I wanted to nail down a motel, and I also hoped maybe I could find something for us to do in Cross Plains other than just stop by the side of the road and take pictures of the Howard House. At the time, that and a visit to the grave in Brownwood were about all I knew to do.
As I came into Cross Plains from the north on Texas 206, I decided to stop and see if the library was open. It had been closed on my only other trip to the town, in the fall of the previous year.Â I thought that if anyone in town would know about REH, it should be the library. As I parked my car in front, I noted that while the sign said the library was closed, the door was ajar, so I ventured in. Behind the desk just inside the door was a young woman, probably a high school student.
I told her I was a visitor from Houston, planning to bring a group of Robert E. Howard fans to Cross Plains in June, and hoping there was someone I could talk with about whether the Library had any Robert E. Howard related material.
The young lady made a quick trip to the back of the library, returning in the company of a woman who introduced herself as Joan McCowen, and asked how she could help me. When I explained what I wanted to do, her face lit up — and if youâ€™ve ever met Joan you know that her smile can light up the room — and she invited me back to the office to talk.Â It was the beginning of what has been, to date, a wonderful 22-year friendship, and it was the first in the chain of events that created Robert E. Howard Days.
Joan was then president of the Friends of the Library, and it was simply good fortune she had happened to be there taking care of some business on a Saturday.Â She told me that she had not known much at all about Robert Howard until very recently, when she had read Dark Valley Destiny and become very interested in Howard’s poetry.Â She offered to do what she could to come up with some activities for the group I would be bringing, including, possibly, getting to at least walk around the yard of the Howard house: the owners, it turned out, were members of the Friends of the Library. I in turn offered to see if we REHupans could come up with some Howard books for the library, which had only a few battered copies of Conan paperbacks.
Joan, librarian Billie Ruth Loving, and the Friends that June treated us to a marvelous weekend. We did get to walk around the yard of the Howard house taking pictures (we did not get to go inside, but the owner, Floyd Carter, told us — as we later learned, quite correctly — that the inside did not much resemble what the house had looked like when the Howards lived there). We had a delectable dinner of barbecued brisket at the home of Drs. Charles and Lou Rodenberger, where we got to meet a number of the Friends of the Library, including Jack Scott.Â And we learned that, in honor of our visit, the mayor had proclaimed Saturday, June 14, 1986 â€œRobert E. Howard Day.â€Â At a ceremony on Saturday at the library, the mayor read the proclamation, and on behalf of REHupa I made a formal presentation of about 40 Howard books, from hardcover copies of Mayhem on Bear Creek and The Dark Barbarian to paperbacks and fanzines, we had collected. Joan was delighted to find among the donated volumes a copy of the Underwood-Miller edition of Always Comes Evening.
From that day to this, REHupa has enjoyed a special relationship with the Cross Plains Public Library, and Joan McCowen has been a vital part of that tradition.Â When a group of civic-minded citizens formed Project Pride, Joan and Alton were among them.Â When some of those folks pooled their own resources and bought the Howard House, the McCowens were part of the group. Joan and Alton were always there during Howard Days, Joan greeting visitors in the Howard House, Alton for several years leading bus tours.Â But that was only the public face: the two of them spent many, many hours on library and Project Pride business and activities, from Alton maintaining the Howard House grounds or attending to needed repairs, to Joan spending hours sorting through donations and setting up the Silent Auction.
Today, Joan’s dedication and service to the library is recognized and honored. We, as Robert E. Howard fans, join in that tribute, and thank her for everything she has done for Cross Plains and for Robert E. Howard. And I take advantage of this opportunity to say thank you, Joan, for twenty-two years of wonderful friendship.
INDY adds: I was among that first group of ten who came to the very first Howard Day celebration in 1986. Fortunately, Joan and Billie Ruth Loving were the first two people that I had theÂ great pleasureÂ of meeting in Cross Plains. Joan found out I was from Northwest Indiana and told me that she was from Chicago, so we had some immediate regional bonding!
She’s always been one of my absolute favorite people in Cross Plains, and I’ve admired her gracious straightforwardness coupled with charm and Texas hospitality. Joan is a great friend of the fans of Robert E. Howard,Â Â and I can selfishly say I’m glad she’s my friend as well!
The Tribute to Joan McCowen is so well-deserved – please take some time in your own way to offer up a good thought for a great lady!