James David Howard Atkinson, of Terre Haute and formerly of Sullivan, passed away peacefully on June 2, 2020 at IU University Hospital in Indianapolis following a brief illness.
Howard, as he was known to his family and friends, was born to James David and Lucille Howard Atkinson on February 18, 1944, in Vincennes, Indiana, and was the mischievous younger brother to Sarah Elizabeth Atkinson. Raised in Bicknell, Indiana, he would continue in the family business, Atkinson Ice, begun by his grandfather in 1911.
Howard wed his eighth-grade sweetheart, Barbara Anderson Atkinson, on September 12, 1964, the culmination of a courtship that he began in 1958 by dipping her hair in his inkwell. Howard and Barbara were married for more than 55 years, and Howard always pointed to the children they raised together as his greatest accomplishment. Together he and Barbara raised Suzanne, Chris, Robert, and Amy in Sullivan, Indiana. Howard took great pride in his children and their accomplishments, and for her part Barbara always said that she brought up five children — Howard as the eldest in her brood — during their many years of marriage.
Howard and Barbara began their married life in Vincennes, Indiana, where Howard ran the family ice plant and delivered ice locally for three years until the family moved to Sullivan, Indiana, in 1967. There he and his father, and then his sons, ran the Sullivan plant for more than 53 years. During Howard’s time at Atkinson Ice, he and his father acquired several ice plants in the area, including in Terre Haute; Rockville; Bloomington; Princeton; Brazil; Paris, IL; and Lawrenceville, IL; as well as a depot in Cincinnati, Ohio. The purchase of these plants increased the company’s distribution area and boosted its production, bringing sustained growth for the ice plant in Sullivan and for production in Brazil. In 1994, after a chain of fires and other adverse circumstances, Howard decided to close Atkinson Ice, but to this day people remember its aqua green delivery trucks and ice boxes as well as its famous slogans: “The Clink That Makes the Drink” and then, in later years, “Clearly Better.” Howard was deeply rooted in the ice business, a tradition that persists to this day through his son Robert, who has continued in the ice business.
Howard was known as the Eddie Haskell of Bicknell, famous for getting into scrapes of every kind with his friends, to his parents’ perpetual exasperation. But he was a friend to all, and his congenial nature earned him the position of Bicknell Class of 1963 president, a job he took seriously not only during his time as a student but for the remainder of his life. He and Barbara, his vice president, organized class reunions, picnics, and gatherings for more than 55 years, and in between he kept up with his classmates through frequent phone calls, visits, and Facebook connections. The ongoing friendships he and his classmates built were a source of lasting pride for him.
Howard and Barbara never met a stranger. Over the years, they opened their home freely to foster children, very special “daughter” Janet Alexander Grable, foreign exchange students, their children’s classmates, interns from work, their minister, and finally Barbara’s father, Merlin Anderson. Howard and he might not have agreed on everything in life, but they cherished the time they were able to spend together.
After moving on from the ice business, Howard started Health Quest, a nutrition and vitamin store in Terre Haute where he shared his knowledge of natural remedies with his customers while learning from them in return. Howard operated Health Quest until 2017, when he retired.
Howard’s booming laugh was the centerpiece of any room — he loved enjoying life with his family and friends and was known for telling stories that could bring an unexpected blush to his hearers’ cheeks. That was Howard — his personality was larger than life, and people cherished him for it.
Howard was a cyclist as well as an avid car and Chris-Craft enthusiast. He devoted his spare time to restoring Jaguars, Austin Healys, and Chris-Craft boats — a passion he developed at a very young age and one that lasted his entire life.
As a member of Unity Presbyterian Church, Howard was also very active in the life of the congregation and participated in many of his church’s fundraising campaigns. His church family meant the world to him.
Howard is preceded in death by his parents, James and Lucille Atkinson, and his in-laws Merlin and Betty Anderson and his sister-in-law, Charlotte Anderson.
Howard is survived by his wife, Barbara; his daughter Suzanne (Troy) Atkinson-Helt (Terre Haute); his sons, James (Kelly) Christian Howard Atkinson (Sullivan) and William Robert Matthew Atkinson (Sullivan); and his daughter Amy (Bill) Atkinson Samm (Evansville). He was grandfather to 10 loving grandchildren: Rachel Helt, Anna Atkinson, Olivia Atkinson, Abigail Atkinson, William Atkinson, McKenzie Atkinson, Jacob Samm, Katelyn Atkinson, Margaret Samm, and Emily Samm. He is also survived by his sister, Sarah Atkinson; his brothers-in-law, Donald (Paula) Anderson and Mike (Judy) Anderson; and his sisters-in-law Denise (Steve) Cofer and Marilyn (Bryce) Waggoner.
Private funeral services will be held at Unity Presbyterian Church on June 13, 2020. Entombment will be at a later date in the Center Ridge Mausoleum in Sullivan, Indiana. At Howard’s request, in lieu of flowers please make donations to Unity Presbyterian Church, 1207 East Springhill Drive, Terre Haute, IN, 47802, or to a charity of your choice. A celebration of life will be held at Suzanne’s home, at 175 South Lakeview Drive, Terre Haute, IN 47803 on June 13, 2020 at 12:30 p.m.. In true Atkinson fashion, the more the merrier! Howard wanted to ensure that family members, friends, and classmates, as well as his Atkinson Ice and church family, will all be present and accounted for. Please let his family know if you will be able to attend. Cremation arrangements were entrusted to Greiner Funeral Home.
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