JR Howell was born and raised just 40 minutes from downtown Nashville, but his neighborhood wasn’t packed with houses. In fact, to this day, it remains a peaceful oasis resting on 5,000 acres. JR had the unique experience of growing up inside Montgomery Bell State Park, a vacation destination for thousands of people. His dad was the park Superintendent.
“During the summer, there were folks from all over the country who camped in the park and visited the park. In the wintertime, we pretty much had it all to ourselves. It was like a 5,000-acre playground. I spent my whole childhood there, with my two brothers and four sisters and our parents. We moved from the park when I was 17.”
Growing up in the park gave JR the opportunity to raise animals of all stripes—everything from ducks and rabbits to catfish. He even rehabilitated a few injured wild animals. JR’s childhood is full of stories and adventures from the park, but some of the memories he treasures most are working with members of the park’s maintenance crew. During the summer months, crew members would teach JR about the equipment they used to take care of the park. Through their instruction, he learned how to drive a tractor and a truck. He even spent every weekend away from the park with the crew.
“Most of them were also farmers, so each weekend I’d go home with one of them to work on their farm. When I would come back home Monday morning before school, I’d either bring back some bacon or a ham. There’s no telling what I’d bring home as an offering to my parents for letting me work with them over the weekend, and it gave me the opportunity to learn so much. Not only about animals and taking care of a farm, but how to work with my hands. I learned a lot of good common sense at a young age, and I really enjoyed the hard work.”
JR’s work ethic is a reflection of all the skills and knowledge he learned as a boy. Now, crews at Crain Construction are benefiting from JR’s unique background.
“I learned a lot from those guys back at the park. They really took time to teach me how to do stuff, which has made me want to mentor some of the young people coming up in this industry. I really enjoy guiding people, especially when they understand that I’m trying to help them be successful.”
JR started his construction career in 1977 as a laborer building the Opryland Hotel. He gradually worked his way up to a superintendent role with a general contractor, which took him to 29 of the 50 states. He worked as far away as Olympia, Washington and traveled across Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Florida, and the Carolinas. He’s been at Crain Construction now for four years and says he plans for this to be his final stop.
“Crain values their employees. They give us good support; they’ve got good morals. They’ve got great ethics, and they do what’s right. They say that they build relationships and structures to last a lifetime, and I sincerely believe that. I’ve worked for some big companies where you’re absolutely just a number, and there’s no good feeling there. I feel welcome here at Crain and part of the company, and that keeps me going every day. I’m just very happy where I’m at with Crain, and I intend for this to be the last job I have until I retire.”
When JR isn’t on a job site, he’s spending time with his wonderful wife of 41 years, Traci, and their two adult children, Crystal and Nathan. JR and Traci are both avid gardeners. JR even refers to Traci as “the herb and lettuce master.” He also enjoys woodworking, metalworking, and getting out to enjoy nature with his wife.
“Traci and I love to hike and sometimes even go to the park I grew up in and hike some of the trails there, so we still get to enjoy it. The house I grew up in is still there, too! My wife and our kids are all close, and I’m very proud of that. I’ve been really fortunate, I have a great family. I really do.”