Sara Busse: Growing up with a city architect

Sara and Howard

Sara Busse and her father, Howard Johe.

I knew the difference between Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns before I knew about Mother Goose. Growing up as the daughter of an architect, I was constantly exposed to construction sites, blueprints and bedrock core samples. My school projects were completed at a drafting table using a T-square and triangle.

My father, Howard Johe, felt proud, yet very humbled, to make changes to a city he loved. He felt the burden and the joy of making decisions that would affect so many people for so long.

Dad and Mom met at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh. After Dad finished his degree at Carnegie Tech (where he had the good fortune to meet and study with Frank Lloyd Wright), they moved to South Charleston to accept a job offer from Cy Silling.

They chose the neighborhood because lots of “smart science guys” lived there and worked at Carbide Tech Center. Dad loved the people who worked at Silling Associates throughout the years — they became family to us.

Ours was the “cool” house — mid-century design with redwood siding and a flat roof nestled in a neighborhood of Cape Cods and Colonials. With a skylight in the bathroom, redwood beams and high ceilings, we had lots of built-in furniture accompanied by Eames chairs and Scandinavian pieces.

I loved to tag along on Dad’s job sites, including climbing on the catwalk of the Charleston Civic Center. I cheered the hard-fought victory to keep the cafeteria out of his design for the Culture Center. (That’s where they house the state’s treasures, he would explain — can’t risk having insects or mice!)

Dad sent us postcards from many states when he went to explore arenas across the country before designing the iconic West Virginia University Coliseum. He would take us to events at the new Civic Center because he wanted to see people “living” in his building — from rock concerts to monster truck shows to circuses, we saw them all. Dad cried tears of joy when he watched his grandson win a state basketball tournament in the main arena.

When Dad was working on the Charleston Civic Center, he told me he had to make sure there was correct rigging for the circus when it came to town. I was sure he had called Mr. Ringling himself, or at very least, he had spoken to a couple of clowns.

My father loved working with families, designing their homes. As I drive around our city, I see so many houses that he built with the amazing Jake Dudley. Dad was proud to design schools, churches, hospitals and offices.

Now, we live in another “Howard” house. His swan song, he designed our home near the end of his architecture career. He was designing the prison at Mount Olive at the same time and teased us that he might mix up the drawings and put stainless steel urinals and windows with bars in our home.

When contractors hit bedrock, Dad went home and stayed up all night redesigning the house with a second floor instead of a basement. He visited the job site every day, pacing around the footings, chatting with our builder, and just enjoying the whole process.

A special part of our home came as an early mistake: Dad worked with Bill Blenko to design the chapel at Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home. When the contractor framed the windows the wrong size, Blenko needed to make new stained glass pieces to use on the job. The original Blenko windows went into the trunk of Dad’s Volkswagen bug and lived in the attic of my childhood home. When he designed our home in 1989, he added the Blenko windows to our entry hall — and they bring us joy (and beautiful colors) every day.

I’m thankful I grew up in a home designed by my beloved father — and I’m thankful my children had the same opportunity.

Sara Johe Busse is a lifelong Charleston resident. She’s written for the Charleston Daily Mail and the Charleston Gazette, worked in public relations and volunteered for numerous organizations. Sara now works for Trinity’s Table, a feeding ministry on Charleston’s East End. Married to Bob Busse, they are the proud parents of a daughter, Emma, and a son and his wife, John and Kristen.

Funerals for Thursday, November 21, 2019

Bias, Kenneth - 7 p.m., Evans Funeral Home & Cremation Services, Chapmanville.

Carrow, Mildred - 1 p.m., Marmet Memorial Gardens, Marmet.

Coleman, Aaron - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.

Fore, George - 7 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Midkiff, Cleo - 2 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Outman, Roxine -  2 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Shamblin, Cathy - 7 p.m., Christ Community Church, Scott Depot.