CONNERSVILLE, Ind. -- Stan Howard has delivered the same north-side postal route since 1998. He doesn't service 700 Connersville residences; he takes care of 700 friends. He is up their steps, on their porches, in their lives every day.
On Wednesday, many thanked him.
Jan Cox was waiting. She stepped from behind her Vermont Street storm door and swapped an envelope for her mail.
"Here's a little check for you and your family," she said.
Cordia Nunn missed Howard as he worked her side of Iowa Avenue. She emerged and crossed the street as he made his way back down the other side. She wore slippers. Her shoulders were hunched against the 32-degree cold and swirling snow. She clenched a bill in her hand.
"Hope they win," she said. Nunn gave Howard the money -- and a hug.
Connersville has pulled together this week around Howard, his family and the Butler Bulldogs, who meet Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday in Houston in an NCAA basketball tournament national semifinal game. The Bulldogs' star forward is Matt Howard. He is Stan's son. He is Connersville's (pop. 13,481) fair-haired boy.
Mayor Leonard Urban proclaimed Thursday as "Howard Family Community Day." All available family members were loaded on a firetruck, and a parade carried them from Eighth Street to the courthouse, where "Final Four" had been painted across North Central Avenue.
A rally was held. Speeches were made. And Stan and his wife, Linda, who "have nurtured their children and who all have been examples of good citizens throughout our community," were honored.
It was the culmination of a weeklong fundraising effort that will pay the travel expenses -- estimated at $10,000 -- so Stan, Linda and Matt's three brothers and five sisters can attend the game. (A fourth brother, Tim, can't go because his wife, Abby, is due to give birth and is on bed rest.)
"According to the NCAA, we can't announce a total until there's been a final accounting," fund-drive co-chairman Howard Manifold said Thursday.
"This morning, we listed the checks we had. They filled six pages of legal paper. They're still coming in."
Outpouring of support
Stan and Linda leave for Houston today. Wednesday was the last day for Stan to deliver his route until next week.
The letter carrier's bane didn't care. Dogs barked and yelped wildly everywhere he went. Four pit bulls were in a frenzy in one backyard.
"Know what's wrong with that?" Howard, 59, asked with a nod toward the ruckus.
Fact is, Howard has been bitten once in a third of a century on the job. A dog was waiting for him in the bushes. It jumped out and chomped on his leg.
"Felt like somebody grabbed me with their hand," Howard said. "I looked down, and it was this old dog. Poor guy. He had no teeth.
"We hope Virginia Commonwealth is the same way: not a lot of bite."
The dogs were one of the few normal aspects of an abnormal Wednesday.
"Saw you on TV last night," the attendant at the Fast Max convenience store on Western Avenue said when Howard walked in.
Little wonder. WRTV (Channel 6), WISH (Channel 8) and WTHR (Channel 13) visited Tuesday; WXIN (Channel 59) showed up Wednesday, by which time Colts owner Jim Irsay had offered the Howards the use of his private jet.
Butler's compliance office checked. The NCAA said no. Howard's cellphone rang on Earl Drive. He listened intently, then expressed his thanks profusely. He put away his phone.
"Mr. Irsay is sending a check," he announced.
They say Matt Howard is an exceptionally hard worker. You watch his father walk his route on a cold, early spring afternoon, and you know why. Dad has taken one sick day in 33 years.
Stan and Linda raised 10 kids on a mailman's salary. Now everyone seems to have noticed.
The New York Times ran a story. Sports Illustrated conducted an extensive phone interview this week. CBS sent a crew of five Monday, and the Howard family story will be featured about 4 p.m. Saturday.
"I told them to make sure somebody good-looking played me in the movie," said Howard, whose pouch Wednesday included dozens of copies of Sports Illustrated with a photo of Matt on Page 39.
Stan's postal route overlays the Connersville News-Examiner route Matt once delivered. Little sister Laura has the route now, and a friend from Lawrenceburg called and offered to make the 84-mile round trip each day to cover the route while the family is in Houston. No need. A neighbor already had volunteered.
Larry Showalter was waiting on his Woodland Drive porch as Howard approached. Showalter was one of Matt's newspaper customers. He took his mail, wished Stan, his family and the Bulldogs well, then reached for the door as Stan moved on to the next house.
Showalter turned back.
"That boy of yours is the epitome of this town!" he shouted.
Howard doesn't permit himself to get too proud. He prefers to be thankful. "Humbling," he called the outpouring of donations and affection as yet another driver passed, honked and shouted, "Go 'Dawgs!"
Neither snow nor rain . . .
Manifold, 84, the fundraiser co-chairman, is on Howard's mail route, and he has a deeper stake than most. He is a 1948 Butler graduate. He attended the school on a basketball scholarship, but a heart condition didn't permit him to play beyond his freshman year.
Still, he earned two baseball monograms playing for legendary coach Tony Hinkle and lettered three times in track.
Manifold's late wife, Barbara, was a 1949 Butler grad. She spent time in Europe before falling ill and becoming a shut-in requiring oxygen.
During the summer of 2009, the Butler basketball team took a tour of Spain. Matt put together a DVD of the places he and his teammates had seen, many of which Barbara Manifold had visited. One afternoon, he stopped by, showed Barbara his DVD and spent 21/2 hours chatting with her.
"She cherished that," Manifold said. "I tell Stanley once in awhile it's not what Matt has accomplished, not his academics or being the (2010) national runner-up, it's just that he's one heck of a fine young man. And he comes from a great family."
Stan is a gifted singer with a deep, richly nuanced voice, and when Barbara died in November, he came in off his route, in his letter carrier's uniform, and sang two songs at her funeral.
He was making his appointed rounds.