By SUSAN EVERETT
Howard James Tower a lifelong Calaveras County rancher, businessman and community supporter died Wednesday morning at his home after suffering a heart attack. He was 79.
Tower, owner and president of Calaveras Telephone Company, was born in Stockton. He had lived on his family's ranch, in the Salt Springs Valley near Copperopolis, since he was an infant.
His friends and co-workers described him as generous, kind, a great boss, community-minded, and one who never sought publicity or credit for his acts of kindness and charity.
Every year he and his wife, Ellen, bought many animals at the Calaveras County Fair Junior Livestock Auction to support 4-H and FFA exhibitors. He then gave the meat to his telephone company employees.
"The real point of it is buying it from the kids, so the kids get money for college," said Lou Cherniss, Calaveras Telephone Co. controller.
A plaque in Tower's honor at the Calaveras Fairgrounds acknowledges his contributions to the county's youth.
Tower's father, James who at 16 strung the first telephone line using barbed-wire fencing in 1895 founded Calaveras Telephone.
James died in 1926, leaving his wife, Laura, to run the company. Today, Calaveras Telephone serves customers in a 250-square-mile area of western Calaveras County from offices in Copperopolis and Jenny Lind.
"Howard grew up with the phone company," said longtime friend and employee, Rosalie Northington. "He was a great guy had a big heart. He would do anything for anybody. If it rained and it was late, he would be on the poles, fixing the lines."
Northington, 81, has worked for Calaveras Telephone off and on since she was a teenager. Her first job was as a switchboard operator, in the switch house, off the kitchen of the main house at the Tower Ranch. She is now the company's bookkeeper.
She and Tower were both graduates of Bret Harte High School.