Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

March 13, 2013

‘Bluebirds of Happiness’ take flight to raise funds

Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE — Some benefits are for the birds.

Including this one to raise money for H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Pursue Enrichment).

For the second year in a row, Jacksonville resident Calvin Howell has lovingly crafted whirlygigs, which he sells for $35 each and all proceeds go to the non-profit, which serves as a clearinghouse for  many support services in town. His goal is to raise $400.

This year, the wooden blue birds have flocked to the Dairy Queen, Taco Bell and Clean & Brite Laundry on East Rusk Street, among other retail outlets in the area.

Howell, and his birds, flew the coop from Albuquerque, N.M., to Jacksonville about five years ago, in pursuit of what he calls the "blue bird of happiness."

The "Blue Bird of Happi-ness," a song written in 1934 and recorded by both operatic tenor Jan Peerce and by Art Mooney and His Or-chestra, also references the American phrase to indicate chasing a dream, or looking for a better life.

Formerly a contractor, who spent his time remodeling kitchens and rebuilding bathrooms, Howell simply "hit a wall," he said. "My doctor told me to retire, so I did."

He packed up his travel trailer and headed south to visit his brother, Jim, and sister-in-law in Jacksonville, which was also near another brother in Tyler and a sister in Brownsboro. Born in Frankston, Howell was no stranger to East Texas and decided to feather his nest in a long-term RV campground in town.

Once he set up  housekeeping in his travel trailer, he built a wood shop in his spacious third-acre plot and grew grass. He's adorned his living quarters with wooden replicas of the Alice in Wonderland allegory: The White Rabbit perches on his fence and visitors have to pull his ear to enter. A small table features the Mad Hatter's tea party and a tiny door gives Alice access to the rabbit hole. The Court of Cards presides over one wall, with the King and Jack of Clubs ready to be "off with your head."

"I've built myself a nice little life here," said Howell, who, when he's not woodworking, an-swers the non-emergency phone at the Jacksonville Fire Depart-ment and leads praise and worship at Cove Springs United Meth-odist Church. He exercises with a group of his peers, "to keep us up and moving," and, once a year he runs his fundraiser for H.O.P.E.

His choice of charities is not random.

"My uncle lived in Travis Towers, next to H.O.P.E, for about a year," Howell explained. "Every day he went over there and they gave him a fresh, hot meal for free. Didn't charge him a penny. So the least I can do is give a little back to them."

H.O.P.E. is very thankful for Howell's efforts.

"He supports us through his amazing creativity every year and we truly appreciate how he uses his gifts and talents to our benefit," said H.O.P.E. Executive Director Allison Hale. "His birds are really cute."

Howell fell in love with woodworking when he was in high school in Morton, Texas.

"I opened a can of varnish and I can still remember how it was the golden color of honey," he said. "I fell in love with the trade at that time."

Even though he's flown through different seasons of his life that have not included much time for woodworking, "I always return to my first love," he said.