Through a lifetime of service, Howard Nevins has left his mark on places and people who changed the landscape of our community. From service projects to the creation of Warrick Trails, he was – quite literally – a trailblazer.
Many Evansville and Newburgh, Indiana, residents remember Nevins as an innovative entrepreneur, passionate leader, and dedicated philanthropist. More than that, he was a friend and family member. He passed away from COVID-19 in September 2021.
Nevins was honored on the anniversary of his death with a memorial in Friedman Park that instills one of his core principles: “Leave everything better than you found it.”
“It fills my heart,” his wife Cindy Nevins says about the memorial. “It’s a wonderful legacy to leave his children, and his grandchildren can come see his memorial and say, ‘Papa did great things.’”
A FAMILY MAN
Nevins was born Feb. 1, 1956, in Alpena, Michigan. He was the only son of five children born to Glen Nevins and Darlene Yarch. His father passed when Nevins was still a boy, so he turned to the local Boys & Girls Club, an organization that would remain a constant presence throughout his life.
He also had a clear entrepreneurial spirit from a young age, buying doughnuts and selling them for a profit at school. He played hockey and football while attending Alpena High School and was inducted into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004.
Howard and Cindy Nevins grew up together in Alpena. They married in 1977 while he attended Western Michigan University on a full-ride football scholarship. They were wed for 44 years and together for 50.
“He was an amazing person,” Cindy Nevins says. “I had the best kind of life I could have imagined with him.”
Nevins also was captain of WMU’s football team and an All-Mid-American linebacker; lettered three years; and received the President’s Award for Leadership his senior season. Cindy Nevins fondly remembers living on campus with him and feeding “all kinds of football players.”
He graduated in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science in geology and in 2010 received the WMU Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences Alumni Achievement Award. After college, he was employed by Ashland Coal and went to work in then-Ashland Oil’s office in Evansville.
The couple planted their roots in Newburgh and had two children, daughters Breann Ellis and Courtney Tenbarge, 27 months apart.
“Something he’d always say was that his family was his support and his drive,” Tenbarge says. “He was always there, no matter how busy he was. There was nothing he wasn’t a part of.”
BUILDING THE WARRICK TRAILS INITIATIVE
Alpena has several trails and a paved bypath, which inspired Nevins to create a trail system in Warrick County. A local small business owner, Nevins saw a need for outdoor lifestyle amenities and created the idea for Warrick Trails on the back of a napkin.
The goal of creating Warrick Trails was to improve the health, wellness, and quality of life for Warrick County residents and visitors. As a business owner, Nevins also viewed the trails as a way to draw and retain people to the area.
When Steve Roelle was invited to be on an early version of the Warrick Trails board of directors, he had no idea what he was walking into, as evidenced by his impression after his first trails meeting.
“I walked away with a whole to-do list that I’d better get done before the next meeting!” says Roelle, now the executive director of Success Warrick County.
Creating and funding the trails project was no easy task. It took communication and collaboration from corporations, state and county government divisions, the Warrick County School Corporation, the Economic Development Coalition of Southwest Indiana, and the volunteer-based Warrick Trails board. The project received funding from private donations, the Indiana Regional Cities Initiative, and a Transportation Alternatives Program grant.
“We’ve been asked by the surrounding counties, ‘How did you get this done, put miles of trails in, and get everyone to work together?’” Roelle says. “The short version answer is Howard Nevins. He worked and willed this collaboration and got everyone believing. Something that’s this good for our health, quality of place, and community doesn’t happen without that collaboration.”
The 30 miles of trails were completed in 2019, and the project has seen multiple upgrades and extensions since. Nevins’ daughter Courtney now serves as the president of Warrick Trails.
“He always wanted to leave things better than he found them,” she says, “because if you saw him, he was always picking up trash. You wouldn’t know he was the one who created these trails.”
A REGIONAL THINKER
Warrick County Commissioner Dan Saylor got to know Nevins through the development process of the trails.
“He was a warrior for Warrick County, and he was interested in what impact the trails would have for our region,” Saylor says. “His dream was to make trails to connect everybody, not just for us, but also for Southern Indiana and beyond.”
Audrie Burkett, senior vice president of the Evansville Regional Economic Partnership, worked with Nevins from a business and community-building perspective from 2015 through 2021.
“Howard was not only Mr. Warrick County but also a true regional thinker,” she says. “He always had Warrick County in his heart. He pushed the envelope to make sure we were thinking in a regional manner.”
Nevins devoted much of his time to local organizations and served on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club, Redevelopment Commission, Economic Development for Southwest Indiana, Golf Gives Back, and Warrick Trails.
Ron Ryan, executive director of the Evansville Boys & Girls Club, says Nevins supported the organization with both his time and treasures, helping behind the scenes and involving his friends and family in the club’s events.
“You could count on Howard to ask the tough questions, which makes me a better executive director,” Ryan says. “He would always challenge you to be better in the things you do.”
LEAVING A LEGACY
Nevins’ legacy can be seen in many physical ways, but also in the way he impacted people’s lives.
“I was lucky to have him as a role model, and he had a tremendous impact on me,” Roelle says. “I believe what we did through Warrick Trails makes our community better, and that’s why I show up every morning.”
“Howard believed in the importance of quality of place, quality of leadership, guidance, and giving,” Burkett says. “Warrick Trails wouldn’t have happened without him.”
Nevins’ life lessons and teachings will also live on. Sharing blessings and leaving things better than they were found are embedded in the creation of Warrick Trails and its board of directors.
“He created a mentality that will make a road path for the next round of visionaries,” Roelle says. “Big picture, Howard is missed both personally and professionally on a daily basis. I’ve seen Howard’s spirit, mentality, and drive ripple through individuals in all of the sectors. His legacy will live on for years and decades to come.”
“You lose someone, and it leaves a huge hole,” Tenbarge says. “We will never fill his shoes or the void, but we’ll keep trying to continue what he wanted. He wanted everyone to create their own passion in their own way; he started the phenomenal vision for the community, and we want to keep making it better for today’s world.”