Former Columbia mayor, businessman remembered as loyal public servant

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 | 9:43 p.m. CST; updated 3:17 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Howard Lang (center) and council members at a city council meeting while Lang was mayor, sometime between 1953 and 1957.

COLUMBIA — If ever there were a man who lived and breathed the Columbia community, Howard Lang Jr. would be him.

Columbia mayor, Boone County prosecuting attorney and president of MFA Insurance are three of the titles Mr. Lang will be remembered for, but above all, he was a “man of enormous integrity,” said daughter Martha Delmez of Clayton.

“He wanted the best for every aspect of his life — for his family, for his church, for his community and for his work,” Delmez said.

Mr. Lang died Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2007, at Boone Hospital Center. He was 95.

Mr. Lang was born Aug. 7, 1912, in Fulton and moved to Columbia in 1929 with his family. He attended Hickman High School for his senior year.

He later studied business and earned a master’s degree in political science from MU. He earned his law degree from MU in 1936, the same year he married his wife, Mary Kay.

After graduating, Mr. Lang joined the law firm of Clark, Boggs, Peterson and Becker.

He then served in the Navy during World War II.

His first run for public office was in the 1940s for Boone County prosecuting attorney.

Daughter Khaki Westerfield of Columbia remembers knocking on doors and handing out cards during the August primary season and heading to towns in Boone County with her father for ice cream socials.

Mr. Lang served as prosecuting attorney for two terms, beginning in 1946.

In 1949, Mr. Lang joined MFA Insurance Co. as chief claims attorney and worked his way up to president 30 years later. He was instrumental in easing the transition from MFA to Shelter Insurance.

He retired on July 1, 1981 — the same day MFA Insurance became Shelter Insurance. He remained chairman of the board until 1984.

“He was a very direct man, and I admired his integrity and forthrightness. You knew where you stood with him,” said Jim Offutt, one of Mr. Lang’s co-workers at Shelter Insurance.

During his time at MFA, Mr. Lang ran unopposed for mayor in 1953 and served two terms.

Delmez said one of her father’s proudest accomplishments as mayor was seeing Stadium Boulevard “built well and for a low price.”

Other accomplishments include the southern extension of Providence Road and the improvement of housing conditions between Fifth Street and McBaine Avenue and Ash and Worley streets.

A longtime civic and business leader in Columbia, Mr. Lang was a board member of many community organizations, including Stephens College for 34 years, and he served as chairman of the Columbia Library Board.

During his 12-year tenure on the Boone Hospital Center board, he asked for and received $100,000 from the Nifong family for the hospital’s Nifong wing.

“When I was young, I thought it was normal that everyone’s father donated that kind of time,” Delmez said.

Mr. Lang also was a lifelong member and chairman of the board of trustees of First Baptist Church of Columbia.

“When I made decisions, he always came to mind as my voice of reason,” granddaughter Carrie Ramlow said. “I used him as a gauge to live my life.”

Lang was also a major supporter of MU football and a longtime season ticket holder, Westerfield said.

“He was one of those people who supported the team, rain or shine. After World War II, he used to take his Navy parka and sit in some of the colder fall games,” she said.

Even after he left his position as mayor, he’s managed to keep his hands in Columbia politics.

“He continued, even in his last few years, to be really vitally interested in the good of the community. He would often call the city manager to make suggestions,” Westerfield said.

Mr. Lang is survived by two daughters, four granddaughters, and two great-grandchildren.

His wife, Mary Kay Lang, and brother, Arthur Lang, died earlier.

Visitation will be from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Parker Funeral Service, 22 N. Tenth St. Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at First Baptist Church of Columbia, 1112 E. Broadway.

Memorial contributions may be sent to First Baptist Church, 1112 E. Broadway, Columbia, MO 65201, or to the Law School Foundation, MU School of Law, 205 Hulston Hall, Columbia, MO 65211.

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