The Rev. Robert Howes did not let the walls of his church prevent him from helping others in his community who were in need of his spiritual strength and foresight.

Friends and family members said that Howes, who died last week at age 90, took his faith and spread it into the world beyond his beloved South Congregational Church of Kennebunkport.

Howes served as pastor of South Congregational from 1955 to 1989. He served concurrently as pastor of the First Congregational Church in Kennebunkport from 1962 to 1989.

“He ministered to people from all walks of life,” said a son, Eric Howes of Auburn. “He was very involved in the life of the community. I think my dad viewed the greater community as his South Congregational Church. He took a much broader view of what the church’s mission was than most.”

Known to many as Bob or Reverend Bob, Howes died Thursday at his home in Kennebunk after a brief illness.

Charles Whiston succeeded Howes as minister of the South Congregational Church after Howes retired in 1989. After his retirement, he became minister emeritus.


Whiston said that in 1980, Howes led an effort to acquire a building next to the church that he later converted to affordable housing. Though some church members were reluctant to become landlords, Howes saw a need to create housing for those less fortunate. He and a few members of the church created a non-profit organization, separate from the South Congregational Church, to oversee the housing units.

“That was an important part of his ministry,” Whiston said. “His view was that his faith should not be confined to the walls of his church. He consistently said our job is to love one another while we are in this world.”

In the early 1960s, Howes founded a community-based mental health services agency that grew into something bigger than he ever could have imagined.

Howes founded the Community Child and Family Guidance Association, which consisted of three counselors working out of a Biddeford office at the time. The organization grew into York County Counseling, then into Counseling Services Inc., and eventually Maine Behaviorial Healthcare – a statewide organization that serves 20,000 people and has 1,100 employees.

Steve Price met Howes in 2010 after discovering through a search of old records that Howes was the last surviving board member of Counseling Services Inc.

CSI created the Reverend Robert M. Howes Founder Award, an award that is presented each year to an individual who exemplifies the ideals and commitment to service that Howes demonstrated as a leader in the field of mental health.


“What he started with just three people grew to an organization with an annual operating budget of $80 million,” said Price, a former communications director for Counseling Services Inc. “He was truly a visionary.”

Tom Chappell, co-founder of Tom’s of Maine, said Howes inspired him to pursue a master’s degree in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School and to write a book called “The Soul of Business: Managing for Profit and The Common Good.”

“He was a very community-minded person, who took his faith into the community,” Chappell said.

Howes also served over 45 years as a volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Kennebunkport Fire Department and helped to establish the Kennbunkport Emergency Medical Service. In addition, he counseled emergency responders who were called to the scenes of traumatic accidents and fires.

Linda Ward, a friend of Howes who lives in Kennebunkport, credits him with fostering the creation of the River Tree Center for the Arts in Kennebunk.

“It started in Bob’s office,” Ward said. “He fully supported the arts center.”


River Tree was founded in 1982 by members of the South Congregational Church. The church donated a piano and provided space for international concert performances. The organization took its name from the double apple tree bordering the Kennebunk River and the church.

His family wrote in Howes’ obituary that “many people in the community who had no church home regarded Robert as their pastor and looked to him for spiritual care … . He ministered to all with grace, humility, and wisdom. He was content with the life he led and proud of the work he had done.”

The Bibber Memorial Chapel in Kennebunk is handling funeral arrangements. Visiting hours will be held at the funeral home’s Summer Street facility in Kennebunk on Saturday, April 18, from 4 to 7 p.m. A memorial service will be held at the South Congregational Church in Kennebunkport on May 30.

“He married my parents, my aunt and uncle, and my wife and I. He affected generations of people from this area,” said Doug Bibber, a director at the Bibber Memorial Chapel in Kennebunk.

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