Exeter loses a piece of its heritage

Longtime Exeter Memorial Building Manager Howard Fackler dies; will be posthumously presented with the Exeter Heritage Award at annual banquet on April 22

EXETER – On the precipice of a historic rainfall, massive flooding and mounting evacuations, a local man was being honored for more than 28 years of work. Howard Fackler, the manager of the Exeter Memorial Building, was the guest of honor at a dinner there thrown by the local Lions Club on March 10. It was an event complete with steak, potatoes and rice, staples of a meal at the memorial building and a scene Howard had seen his whole life, yet never tired of seeing the community members gather to break bread, toast the town and make memories.

Long after the planning and setting of the scene, the evening shifted from one of celebration to concern. The storms raging outside the walls of the hall were overwhelming local lakes, rivers and canals and flooding the area with evacuation warnings. Tulare County’s Office of Emergency Services had designated the geographically centric and remarkably reliable Exeter Memorial Building as it’s Temporary Evacuation Point and Emergency Shelter for those fleeing flood waters in Three Rivers, Yokohl Valley and Woodlake, another testament to Howard’s efforts. After learning of the news a few hours before his dinner was set to begin, Howard approached the Lions Club to let them know they should continue preparing the food but instead serve it to those who were evacuated from their homes and were coming to his house, the Exeter Memorial Building.

The gesture would be Howard’s final act of service in a lifetime of dedication to the Exeter community. A few days after the event, Howard went to the hospital complaining of severe fatigue. His health began to decline rapidly and, in the early morning hours of March 24, he left this Earth for an eternal rest.

Howard’s brother, William Reed, said Howard was born in Exeter, Calif. on May 13, 1946. He attended college at University of California, San Diego where he majored in science. After earning his degree, Howard worked for a time as a lab assistant at a testing facility in Southern California before returning to the Central Valley. He worked on the chainsaw crews in the Sierra Nevadas to cut fire lines for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, now known as CalFire, before taking a position as the bar manager and then manager of the Pinehurst Lodge Bar & Grill in Miramonte, Calif. He eventually found his way back to his hometown to take over as manager of the Exeter Memorial Building, where his father, Howard Fackler, Sr. had been a board member in the 1990s, according to district records. Even after moving home, his brother, William Reed, said Howard would come down to San Diego every Thanksgiving to spend time with his family.

“He was a hippie with long hair, John Lennon glasses and tie dye shirts,” Reed said. “He had an interesting mind and was a fascinating guy.”

Howard dedicated nearly 30 years of his life as caretaker, guardian and promoter of the Exeter Memorial Building and its grounds. Howard was hired to the position in June 1995. Like the building itself, he has been a part of every community gathering, major memorials, and time-honored traditions during his tenure there. Howard has been part of many residents most memorable moments. Whether it was correcting the lighting for senior prom, waxing the floors for fundraisers, greening the grass for the brewfest or making sure there was plenty of ice for a wedding reception, Howard was always there, moving behind the scenes to make sure the event went off without a hitch or to rig around the hitch to work anyway!

Johnny Carr, who has sat on the memorial district board for most of Howard’s tenure, said the manager was meticulous in his methods to maintain the building and spearheaded the effort to upgrade the security systems there in the last few years.

“We lost a part of the memorial building when he died,” Carr said. “He was that dedicated to it.”

He wasn’t just a slave to his work as he was also a modern-day Renaissance man. Howard loved to ride his motorcycle, enjoyed Dodger Baseball, was well read, handy with machines and computers alike, enjoyed photography and a knew how to savor every drop of a bold IPA, an imperial pale ale for those not familiar with craft beer, he could tell you. He spent his last night drinking a Sierra Nevada IPA while watching the Dodgers game with his brother. He had a laborer’s work ethic, a tinkerers dexterity, an organized mind, a poetic soul and a heart for service.

Howard was preceded in death by his parents, Howard Fackler, Sr. and Betty Ann (Brichoux) Fackler. He is survived by siblings Yvonne Stephens of Ogden, Utah; David Brackeen of San Jose, Calif. and William Reed of San Diego, Calif. Private services will be handled by the Neptune Society of Central California.

This month, Howard will be posthumously honored as this year’s Heritage Award winner. The event will be held from 6:30-9 p.m. on Saturday, April 22 at the Whitney Wild Oak Ranch, 30162 Rd 192 in Exeter, Calif. While community members should always make an effort to attend this event every year, this year’s event needs to be a sellout … not because of Howard’s passing but as a tribute to the life he lived in the service of this community.

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