HOWE — On the side of a downtown wall placed between advertisements and colorful rectangles that read “Welcome to Howe” is a portrait of the state’s most decorated living World War II veteran sketched by the city’s chief of police.
The portrait of L.B. Kirby is on a metal sign with his name and “truly dedicated” printed between a picture of a Purple Heart. The sign was placed in June, and the artwork was created by Police Chief Carl Hudman, who said the actual portrait is not yet finished.
“I was very pleased someone thought it was good enough to display,” Hudman said. “I’m not a professional and I’m not trained. This is something I do on the side pretty much to relax.”
Hudman, 52, became the chief of the Howe Police Department in February 2013 and has worked in law enforcement for more than 30 years. But Hudman has been drawing since he was a child and continues his artistic endeavors in his free time.
After coming to work in Howe, Hudman said he finally met Kirby and was impressed by him. He said he previously had heard about Kirby’s many accomplishments, but after meeting the man his opinion of him grew. He said he is very likable, unassuming and humble.
“I thought it would be nice to sketch him,” Hudman said. “Not only is he unique in personality, he has a very distinct look to him. I thought he would make an interesting subject to draw.”
Kirby, a Howe native, joined the Army in 1943 and served for more than two years, with 23 of those months stationed overseas in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of operation. Kirby earned multiple honors and medals including seven Bronze Stars, two Bronze Arrowheads and a Purple Heart — the latter given to him after he was wounded by shrapnel from a Japanese rocket. Kirby is now in his 90s and lives in a veteran’s home in Bonham.
Monte Walker, president of the Howe Development Alliance, placed the sign to honor Kirby and remind people in Howe what the city stands for. A portrait of Steve Simmons, a celebrated longtime coach for the Howe Independent School District, is also on the wall with the words “highly motivated” printed on the sign. The lines on both signs form a phrase made locally famous by Simmons, which many who have grown up in Howe should know, Walker said.
“They say we’re highly motivated and truly dedicated — that’s the phrase that every kid in Howe for the past 25 years has been saying,” Walker said.
Walker said the phrase is like a theme of the city, and both men are like legends to the town. He said he hopes the wall brings pride to the community, and both signs are there to stay. And the wall may bring inspiration to someone else so someday another portrait may be added.
“There’s a lot of really good people who have come before us in this town and done great things for Howe,” Walker said. “If people do great things for their city, they can be rewarded. The sky’s the limit.”
Walker said Hudman’s portrait brought Kirby’s family to tears from appreciation. Gail Hariman, who has lived in Howe for more than 35 years, said the portrait moved many people. She said it honors Kirby and show how much Hudman respects and admires the man for his service.
“It means even more that the chief of police, our chief, took time out just to do that as a thank you to Mr. Kirby,” Hariman said.
With approximately a dozen sketches in various stages of completion, Hudman said time is the only thing that holds him back in his artwork. Working full time as a police chief keeps him from sketching as much as he would like, he said. Hudman has also completed portraits of Sheriff Keith Gary and Justice of the Peace David Hawley. He said he gravitates toward subjects with unique characteristics and distinct appearances.
“He’s an amazing artist and just like any artist, he doesn’t like to talk or show off his work,” Walker said. “If something is not complete, he doesn’t let anybody see it.”
For those looking to improve their artistic talent, Hudman advised they should draw every day if possible and apply themselves.
“With the internet today, you can learn so much on drawing techniques and skills — things that were not available when I was a young man growing up,” Hudman said. “Either develop the talent on your own or you obtain it through instruction.”