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Clovis music teacher a rare breed in N.M. activities hall of fame

Norvil Howell took the 1969 Clovis High School band, shown in the picture held by Howell, to the Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth.

Norvil Howell’s first trumpet came in a cardboard box.

His father purchased it at a jewelry store when Norvil was 11 years old. It cost $25.

Now, 61 years, several trumpets and thousands of students later, Howell is the only music educator in the New Mexico Activities Association Hall of Fame.

The legendary Clovis High School band director and music administrator was formally inducted into the organization March 12 in Albuquerque. Last week, Clovis School District officials honored him with an award at a school board meeting.

“I accepted that award on behalf of all the music educators in the state,” Howell said.

About 90 percent of inductees into the NMAA Hall of Fame are athletic administrators, said NMAA assistant director Ric Maxey.

Schools nominate candidates and a seven-member panel decides the inductees based on their service to a school.

Born in Independence, Kan., Howell moved to New Mexico as a child and graduated from Artesia High School in 1950. Though his parents were not educated, Howell earned a bachelors and masters degree from Eastern New Mexico University.

In school and living in Portales without a car in 1954, Howell hitchhiked to Muleshoe each day where he inherited the music department from a teacher who was put in jail, he said.

Howell asked his superintendent if he could use his free period to teach the black students at the nearby school. The Muleshoe district was segregated at the time. There he taught six students.

“That was all that could afford instruments,” he said.

In 1956 he became band director at CHS. He would hold that post until 1980.

Howell was admittedly demanding on his students.

“I took a lot of pride in my kids,” he said. “I always felt like if you loved kids you can work them as hard as you want.”

Becky Ingram has taught 23 years in the school district and is currently a second-grade teacher at Mesa Elementary. She learned to play the clarinet in the fifth grade. As a high school student under Howell from 1967-1969, she said he was a mentor.

“He was a very strong person but he had a gentle heart and he cared about his students,” Ingram said. “He expected the best out of you and he didn’t have time for those who weren’t going to put out the best effort.”

In 1963 the CHS band, under Howell’s leadership, was invited to Los Angeles to perform at halftime of the Rams and Baltimore Colts game. Two days prior to the event, President John Kennedy was assassinated. While most events were canceled, the game was played amid controversy and the band performed.

At a band competition in Oklahoma in the early 1960s, Howell said the squad was eating dinner at a mess hall prior to the performance. Three black students were told to eat in the kitchen.

“Oh no, its okay,” the event director told Howell, apologizing.

“I say, no it’s not, the kids feelings have already been hurt,” Howell said.

Howell ordered his students on the bus and the team returned to Clovis, refusing to compete at the event.

Clovis resident Cherrie Hayden played clarinet in Howell’s band in the 1960s.

“He was like a father to me, and he gave me the discipline I have in my life and my self confidence,” Hayden said. “He is my favorite teacher of all time and he is a best friend now.”

In 1980, Howell became coordinator of music at CHS until his retirement in 1997.

“I worked with teachers and I felt like could reach even more students,” he said.

Howell and his wife Elaine are celebrating their 40th year in marriage. Elaine taught English for 39 years at Clovis schools, retiring in 1999.

The couple has two sons: One teaches in Clovis, the other in Las Vegas, Nev.

Howell founded the Clovis Community Band and served as executive director of the New Mexico Music Educators Association for nine years.

Even with his legacy at CHS, Howell remains humble.

“I had a lot of help.”

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