Howard Douglas Arnold Sr., professor of social work at Penn

Posted: March 14, 2014

HOWARD ARNOLD might have trod the hallowed halls of the University of Pennsylvania as a teacher and administrator for 31 years, but his consciousness of the plight of suffering people was always at street level.

He knew about the ravages of poverty, ignorance and violence, especially in the African-American community because his hands were always in it, trying to make it better.

As a social worker, Howard Arnold was possessed of a natural gift for identifying with people on the short end of society, and a talent for helping them rise above their situations.

Howard Douglas Arnold Sr., the first African-American tenured professor at Penn, an associate dean, and an innovator who developed new educational approaches to helping solve social problems, died March 3 of a stroke. He was 79 and lived in Blue Bell, Montgomery County.

Howard also had a gift for defusing delicate problems before they could escalate. Past Penn presidents Sheldon Hackney and Judith Rodin relied on him to negotiate politically charged situations on campus.

At Penn, he was a co-founder of the Black Faculty and Administrators, and helped establish the DuBois College House, named for civil-rights activist W.E.B. DuBois.

He developed racially conscious curriculum innovations, including a new course of study, "American Racism: Implications for Social Work."

Howard knew what it was like to get down with the people with the severest problems. He was a caseworker for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare for 12 years, going into the homes of the people who needed help.

He also innovated programming aimed at eradicating urban poverty, including "Operation Alphabet."

In the '60s, when it could be dangerous to walk the streets of the inner city because of gang violence, Howard worked with youth gang members in South Philadelphia in the evenings with the United Neighbors Association.

There is no doubt he turned around a lot of lives.

"He understood human behavior so well," said his daughter, Jeanne Arnold, herself a social worker with two degrees from Penn.

"He was the most laid-back, even-tempered, calm and wise person I've ever known."

Howard Arnold was born in Philadelphia to Benjamin Alvin Arnold Jr. and the former Mamie Hentrietta Tee.

He graduated from West Philadelphia High School and went on to Pennsylvania State University, from which he graduated in 1956. He then entered the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work, where he earned a master's degree.

His daughter said he became a mentor and role model for her and her brother's friends as teenagers.

"They would tell him things they wouldn't tell their own parents," she said. "They sought his advice on what they should do with their lives."

The University of Pennsylvania was something of a tradition in the Arnold family. An uncle, Frederick Arnold, was a graduate, and Howard's grandfather, Benjamin Alvin Arnold, attended the Wharton School.

Howard liked to relax at casinos, where he tested his luck on the slots, in Atlantic City, Las Vegas, Monte Carlo and Valley Forge. He also liked to test his skill as a handicapper with the horses at area race tracks.

In later years, he developed a skill at painting and other home improvements.

"Additionally, this devoted husband, father, grandfather and mentor never turned down a dessert," his family wrote in a tribute.

Besides his daughter, he is survived by his wife, Gudrun; a son, Howard Jr.; two stepchildren, Usha and Christopher Tandon; two brothers, Charles and James; and six grandchildren.

Services: Were Tuesday.

Donations is his memory may be made to the Penn Memory Center, Attn: Barbara Overholser, 3615 Chestnut St., Room 236, Philadelphia 19104.

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