History professor’s final voyage at sea

Daniel Leonard, Staff writer

Randall Howarth, Ph.D., passed away March 18 aboard his 42-foot vessel, the Varuna, after completing a final sailing expedition. The trip began in Erie and ended in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Howarth was with Cindy Nimchuk, his wife of 12 years.

Originally from Massachusetts, Howarth joined the Army when he was 18 years old and worked a variety of jobs before deciding to go to college as an adult. He then continued his education to earn a doctorate in History, faster than anyone else in his class. Throughout his adventures, a love of the water was a constant for Howarth.

The 62-year-old Mercyhurst History professor and author dreamed of a ’round-the-world sailing adventure once he retired.

After learning in December 2016 that the liver cancer he had been fighting had spread to his lungs, and that he was given 12 to 18 months to live, he modified his sailing plans to travel roughly 4,000 miles along the Atlantic Coast from May to January.

As a professor, he engaged thousands of students and opened their minds to new experiences through travel in the USA and abroad.

“I think one of Dr. Howarth’s greatest influences as a historian was taking students out to explore early history,” said John Olszowka, Ph.D., a History professor at Mercyhurst.

Prior to the current study abroad program, the opportunity to travel went through numerous faculty, one being Howarth.

“I think he exposed kids to a world they didn’t see within the confines of Mercyhurst at times,” Olszowka said.

Howarth brought his passion for history into the classroom and was determined to make each course memorable.

“He was known for a very theatrical teaching style, acting out certain vignettes and moments in history,” said Chris Magoc, Ph.D., a History professor who came in with Howarth in the fall of 1999. “He would dramatize moments by sometimes getting up on the table and doing a dance, stomping his feet or drawing maps on the board.”

Another member of the History department, Benjamin Scharff, Ph.D., shared a passion for sailing with Howarth, and over the course of 10 years, they became friends.

Scharff, having helped Howarth prepare for his final trip and having visited his friend in Florida, said, “Towards the end he couldn’t have taken it with better spirit. He made the most of every last day he had.”