COLUMBIA — Almost 51 years after Howard B. Lang Jr. was mayor of Columbia, his legacy of public service remains unmatched in the community by those who remember him. Leo Hill, city manager during Lang’s term in office, donated $10,000 to establish an award that honors the former mayor’s contributions to the city and awards individuals with similar devotion to volunteering in Columbia. A five-person selection committee — composed of the current mayor, a past mayor, a city staff member, a member from New Century Fund Inc. and a citizen — will review nominations each year and award one individual with a plaque and $1,000.
Hill said from his 50 or 60 years’ worth of knowledge of Columbia’s history, he never met a person more committed to service than Lang.
“I thought he was the most deserving person for recognition for having given his extra hours in his life to Columbia,” Hill said. “I can’t imagine, even now, that they could have had anyone who did more for Columbia than him.”
Lang died Nov. 13, 2007. He served as Columbia mayor from 1953 to 1957, a period of strong reform and transition between the end of World War II and the beginning of the ‘60s that had a tremendous impact on the future of Columbia. During his term, Lang oversaw a city acquisition of land that nearly doubled the city’s perimeter, a new disposal plant facility and a program of new wells that nearly tripled the city’s water supply, Hill said.
Long before former presidents Kennedy and Johnson began to address segregation, Lang oversaw the integration of the police department and health department in Columbia. He encouraged the city to adopt an urban renewal plan, a second fire station and Interstate 70’s new bypass. When unattractive houses threatened Columbia’s urban areas, Lang adopted a public housing plan, which improved the quality of these homes. All of these programs were commissioned under his leadership in four years.
“He worked my butt off,” Hill said of the years he was city manager while Lang was mayor. “He wanted to get things done. I have such a high regard and great appreciation for him and what he did for Columbia.”
Hill continued to admire Lang’s devotion to the community long after Lang left office in the 1950s. Lang continued to volunteer outside of his role as mayor, working on a number of extra programs and commissions.
Leigh Britt, volunteer coordinator for the Office of Volunteer Services, said the selection committee will debate who they think should be honored with the Howard B. Lang Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service based on nominations they receive. Anyone can nominate someone by filling out a form available by Oct. 1 of each year from their office. The deadline for submission is the second Friday of January each year, and the winner will be presented at the city’s volunteer appreciation event in the presence of members from Lang’s family, past mayors and the current City Council. Britt said Hill wanted to honor the former mayor’s long history of service and volunteering in Columbia.
“He admired Lang very much,” Britt said. “Once we start this award, there may be more donations to suppliant Mr. Hill’s money and carry on the award.”