Howard Breen was one of those people not replaceable in Platte County. Breen, 83, died on March 13. His legacy was large and his family roots traced back to the earliest days of the county. He studied the county’s history, talked to his family members about history and remembered things from days long gone by. I cannot claim to have been one of his many personal friends. We shook hands several times years ago at various events. Now and then I would call him as a reporter regarding some civic board or function. But what I can claim is that we had some fabulous, long conversations about history via the telephone. Various past newspaper columns are richer for his input. The Breen family and his mother’s family, the Renz family, both arrived early in Platte County’s 175-year history as an incorporated county. His Grandfather was a master stonemason who helped direct construction Park College’s early structures, now Park University in Parkville. Howard Breen served as a trustee for the college. Breen was involved in creating much community history in his lifetime. He was known throughout the region because he served on the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority for 35 years, starting in 1965. When few in City Hall cared much about Kansas City’s annexed turf north south of the Missouri River, Breen was in there battling for bus service and respect. If light rail ever comes north of the river into the county, I’d bet somewhere in the past that Breen put possible routes on city planning maps. Breen was a real estate developer. He built subdivisions in the Weatherby Lake area. He had ties to all manner of business organizations and was a founding member of the old Platte County Business and Professional Association. I wonder if he coined the old BPA promo phrase, “Country Living at the City’s Doorstep.” He certainly lived that phrase. In my discussions we often talked more about farms and rural things than we did city things. Of course, he was born in 1930 and until the 1960s signs of the city in the county were scarce. Some would say the same into the 1990s. Beyond business, Breen served numerous civic and community causes, from sheltered workshop boards to hospitals. Business and social service are his most important legacy. But my common ground with him was history. I enjoyed his insights, recollections and his ability to talk about people and places. For example, I recall one long conversation about the Bonnie and Clyde shootout south of Platte City at the old Red Crown tavern and cabins. I forget the specifics. But my memory is that some of Howard’s relatives or friends owned or once owned the Red Crown. So much of what he could talk about was first hand or second hand from friends and kinfolk. Plus in those days you could know old families and people of interest or importance from Riverside to Bean Lake, Farley to Ridgley, as it was a smaller world. One of my interests is the pre-settlement prairie and woodland ecosystem that the pioneers found in the county. The prairie past is long gone. But isolated grasses and the occasional wildflower appear. I called Howard about this topic, and he was able to talk about big bluestem grass growing up in hayfields of his youth, of old walnut groves with large trees that were cut down for gunstocks in World War II, and how parts of the county once looked. We talked about an old stagecoach station called Longpoint that is referenced in W.M. Paxton’s “Annals of Platte County.” No one is exactly sure where this spot was but we had an interesting discussion speculating. History buffs don’t easily find people so capable of such discussion. Some people talk about what needs to be done. Progress comes from people who do what needs to be done, like Howard Breen.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.