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Hermit's treasure

A reclusive Medford millionaire with a reputation for disliking kids surprises neighbors by designating his estate to build a sports park for young people

MEG LANDERS

Mail TribuneA millionaire hermit who lived on a 19th-century island in Medford is leaving his estate so kids can play in the very fields from which he chased them, often at gunpoint.

A two-hole outhouse and other artifacts from Wes Howard's Victorian farmhouse are up for auction Saturday.

The money from the auction will go to the Howard Memorial Sports Park Inc., to be built on the approximately 68-acre parcel, according to estate attorney John Hassen.

Howard, who died in March at age 87, lived in an 1890s two-story home on the corner of Ross Lane and Rossanley Drive.

Up until his death, he cooked on an early 1900s woodstove, and relied on an outhouse because he had no indoor plumbing.

This is a man with money and he was so damn cheap, said Shirley Brown of Medford who had been close friends with Howard for 55 years.

He was really an obnoxious man, if you want to know the truth, said Brown, 76, adding that Howard did spend a lot of time sitting with her sick husband up until he died.

He used to show up all the time to see if I needed something or if was baking cookies, said Brown, adding that probably the fact that she would yell right back at him is what helped them get along so well.

She was surprised that he left his entire estate to create a nonprofit sports park organization.

He hated kids, she said, adding that children were often cutting through his property, which frustrated him.

He would go charging out there with a gun, charging after them.

Hassen knew Howard for the last few months of his life and described him as a character who lived far under his means.

According to Southern Oregon Historical Society records, the farmhouse was constructed around 1890, and has been in the family at least since the early 1900s, when Roy and Dora Lawrence Howard purchased the property. It was sold by Laura Laurentz, and could be a different spelling of the same last name.

Wes Howard was born in 1916, grew up in the farmhouse, and lived there with his parents.

According to Brown, he had no siblings, spouse or children, and lived in the house with his parents.

His mother kept that house so spotless and clean, you could eat off the floor, she said.

She said she thought his mother died in the 1970s. When she died it was a terrible blow to him.

She said Wes and his father, Roy, continued to live in the house, but it was like they were lost, and it wasn't long before his father died.

She described the Howards as having a self-sufficient pioneer spirit, which explains Wes' solitude, but she couldn't explain some of his habits, and he certainly didn't keep house like his mother had.

She said paths meandered through the house amidst stacks of magazines and junk.

For years he talked about his missing cake pan.

He made a cake, he ate the cake, and he set the cake pan down. To the day he died he couldn't find that cake pan, she said.

She said he'd often buy a pork shoulder, throw it in a large pot of water along with green beans, stick it on the woodstove and eat from it for weeks.

It would sit on the back of that stove and it would be fermented, she said, marveling that his cooking didn't kill him.

That stove is one of the items up for auction, along with an 1850s ice box, 1800s crock jugs, buggy harnesses and lanterns and tube radios.

It's going to be a ball, said Wayne Liska, auctioneer, of Liska and Associates Inc., Grants Pass.

I do 100 auction sales a year and this'll probably be the most interesting auction that we've done in a long time, he said, adding that there just aren't any old farmhouses left anymore.

You got cream cans and you open them up and there's (cloth) bags of sugar that have been in there since the '40s, he said.

There will be people coming from across the country to bid on the toilet, he said.

The company's expecting hundreds of people to turn out, and will have tarps and refreshments set up for auction-goers.

Of course, said Liska, we'll bring our own portable toilet.

A lot of Wes Howard's money, according to Brown, was won in a lawsuit when he fell off scaffolding and fractured his leg on a job when he was a carpenter.

Howard's attorney said that in addition to the farm, Howard's estate includes the land leased to Bi-Mart on Highway 238 and about a million dollars in bonds, so there's money to build and at least partly maintain a sports park. He said the estate is in probate now, and preliminary discussions on things such as baseball and soccer fields have begun, but no details have been worked out.

We're going to coordinate with the city of Medford parks, said Hassen. We want to see what the needs are.

Also, he said, he's still looking into the condition of the house and the cost of restoration, which Howard wanted.

Brown said she was glad that Howard left all he owned for a sports park, and said it was partly because he had no one else to leave the estate to.

I think that's nice, she said, because the reputation he had was completely opposite.Auction planned

WHAT: Wes Howard estate auction

WHEN: Saturday, 9 a.m.

WHERE: 1221 N. Ross Lane, Medford

ON THE BLOCK: Trucks, tractors, farm equipment, antiques, guns, horse tack, furniture, tools and more.

For information and pictures, visit on the Web and click on the Upcoming Auctions link.

Preview the estate Friday, — to 5 p.m.

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Rick Wilson, working for auctioneer Liska and Associates, sorts stacks of magazines for the estate auction of Wes Howard's belongings. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell