Monday, October 29, 2012

RIP John Holsen, My Dear Father

My father was of strong Norwegian stock. His parents, brothers and other relatives all lived well into their 90’s.  He spoke Norwegian and loved to stump us with funny sayings. He led us in the Norwegian table prayer at family gatherings.

Dad said it was his goal to live to 100. He never looked his age and was delighted when people were astounded at how old he actually was. We are grateful that he was healthy and maintained his cognitive abilities until the stroke in February of this year. His children and grandchildren were with him when he reached 94 years, a short 14 days ago.

Dad grew up in Moorhead, Minnesota, the middle son of immigrant parents from Norway. He was singled out of his class in the 8th grade along with 9 other students to take Latin classes for the remaining years in high school, because he was identified as a gifted student. 

He quoted Latin to us growing up and loved to put Latin words on the scrabble board to stump Reid and Pam.

He played basketball in high school and was called Hols by his classmates and Dead Eye Dick in the local sports page. His love of sports has continued throughout his life. We lovingly called him - a sports fanatic. His grandsons and granddaughter all played sports in high school and he was especially proud of Sam who went on to play college football. He reveled in all their accomplishments.  

He liked to be told when the grandkids got their report cards and sometimes would reward them monetarily, to their delight. He carried that forward with his great grandchildren John and Hannah.

Dad was the only one in his family to go to college. He earned his BA degree in English and History from Concordia College in 1940. He was so proud of his time at Concordia and wore his Concordia class ring his entire life.

Dad was involved in theater in high school and at Concordia College. He said if it wasn't for the war and his getting drafted, maybe he would have pursued acting as a career. He has talked about his experience in college with great fondness and memories. 

Dad was such a grammarian. He constantly told us to enunciate our words. Stand tall, look people in the eye and enunciate. His great grandson John has his acting ability and his speaking ability and we speak often how Dad’s legacy lives on in his great grandson John.
Dad got his first job as a teacher and coach in Gwinner, ND.  However, he got drafted in 1941 and any thoughts to acting quickly went by the wayside. 

He received his basic training at Camp Roberts in California and after basic training got a job as a payroll clerk on the base. He took great pleasure in the fact that he convinced the people in California he could type, when he couldn't, in order to get a clerk's job.  He talked about getting that job with a sense of glee because he believed he outsmarted those people at the base.

He was offered the opportunity to go to OCS school at Fort Benning, Georgia and graduated in 1943 as a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was sent oversees in 1943 and landed in Brisbane joining the 41st Division at Rock Hampton, Australia.  He talked often about Australia and it seemed his time there was a little bit of heaven in the midst of great discomfort for many years.  He got malaria, he got a Dear John letter, he played poker and he sent money home to his mother.

He served in campaigns in New Guinea, East Indies, the Philippines, fighting in Mindenow and Basalon and was one of the first of the occupation forces to land in Japan. He often talked about walking all the way to Japan.  Dad came home from Tokyo and was discharged from the Army in 1946 with the rank of Captain.

In his later years when he finally started to talk about his experiences in WWII, he talked about his service medals and ribbons and what should be done with them. We decided to put them in a memory box for him and he pulled them out from where ever he had them stored.

He wrote Pam a note saying: You put yourself in your situation. You can get yourself out of it. Learn to live with it. He said, I got myself into that situation, meaning OCS school and subsequent deployment to the South Pacific by giving up a cushy clerical job and going to Fort Benning and getting a commission as an officer in the infantry.

He was a good soldier, a man who reached the rank of Captain and earned the Bronze medal.  We are proud of his service and the fact that he fought and endured so much for his country. His grandson Matthew continued the tradition of service to country by serving in the United States Marines for 6 years. Dad was very proud of Matthew’s service to his country.

When Dad got out of the service, he came home and went to the Employment Services office to apply for unemployment at $20 a week.  They ended up hiring him.  He didn't stay at the Employment office very long because he wanted to teach. He got a job in Winnebago in 1947. However, he quit and went to work for the New Ulm Employment Service.

Mom was staying with her parents in Fargo while he looked for a place to live and she called to tell him she was pregnant with twins. He often told Pam and me that mother cried when she told him they were having twins.

Meanwhile, Winnebago called him and offered him the principal’s job on the condition he get his master’s degree.  He agreed and he started the master’s program at the University of Minnesota the summer of 1948. 

He intended to go to school each summer but lost two summers when he got called back into the Army during the Korean Conflict, in July 1950.  He was recalled to the Army as a Captain. He was assigned to Fort Custer at Battle Creek, Michigan.  We lived on the base at Fort Custer for about a year when Dad received orders for Germany. Mother was pregnant with John and dad applied for a discharge when John was born on the army base.  The Army allowed eligibility for a discharge if you had 3 children. 

We all returned to Winnebago where Dad served as principal until 1955 when he got the Senior High principal job in Luverne. His Winnebago days were filled with lasting relationships. Winnebago was where he met and sustained a lifelong friendship with Bob and Donna Rose.

Their politics were like night and day even back in the Winnebago days and have lasted a lifetime. Those political differences never impacted their friendship. Bob and Donna and their daughter Elizabeth and we are grateful for their loving friendship.

He was often invited back to Winnebago for class reunions and former students from that era continued to come up to him in Mankato to talk to him. He often lamented that he could not remember their names and how could they possible remember him.

Dad got offers for principal jobs over the years but Pam and I begged him not to move us from Luverne and he did not take those jobs.  I think back on his willingness to sacrifice his career moves for his two daughters and am forever grateful for his generosity and compassion for the wishes of his daughters. 

In 1970, he became the Jr. High Principal in North Mankato.  Dad remained at North Mankato Junior High and Mankato West until his retirement in 1983.  1983 was a very sad year for all of us, because his wife and our mother died of cancer at 58 years of age.  Dad decided he didn’t want to work anymore after mother died and retired in May, 1983.

After he retired, he went on to announce High School girls’ basketball in Mankato. He also announced track meets, swim meets and 9th grade football games for Mankato public schools. 

Dad loved the game of golf and continued to play golf regularly until his 90th year. His grandchildren have very fond memories of him teaching them how to golf. He would say, swing with ease and you’re sure to please.  Another metaphor from Dad on how to live your life.

Dare we forget his love of the Minnesota Twins, the Gophers and the Vikings? He was most content sitting in his chair watching sports. Any sports, it didn’t matter. When he found out there was actually a golf channel on cable we worried he was never going to leave the house again.

Dad’s years as an educator have meant everything to him.  He believed in kids, even the tough ones.  He is remembered by the many students he was involved with during his career.  To some, he was the principal who cared enough about them to teach them in summer school so they could get a signed diploma when a teacher gave them a failing grade that prevented them from graduating. To others, he was the principal who showed caring and compassion when a girl found herself pregnant and unable to come to school.  He helped them continue their education so they didn’t become drop outs.  He could be stern but he was fair.  He loved to fill-in in the classroom when a teacher called in sick. I remember many mornings calling him to the phone to deal with an absent teacher. 

In September, 2003 The North Mankato Junior High Staff held a reunion and threw a surprise 85th birthday party for Dad at a restaurant in Mankato. He was very honored by their action and it truly exemplified the impact he had on people’s lives as an educator.

Reputation meant everything to Dad. We were always told to act like the world was watching our every step. He was a proud man where honor, duty, family commitment meant everything and measured him as a man. He loved his profession and felt strongly about helping those students who struggled to graduate.

Throughout Dad’s life former students would stop and greet him.  He always wondered why he was chosen to live through WW II when so many others died.  We believed and always told him it was because of the mark he left on our lives and so many students’ lives through the years of his teaching and caring about kids.

He taught Sunday school and adult church classes for many years both in Luverne and in Mankato. He was a scholar of the Bible and a Stephen minister.  His faith was important to him his entire life.

Dad was an avid book reader.  He taught his children the love of a good book and his children and grandchildren are avid readers today.  He was always quoting someone or something to us.  Quotes that had a life meaning.  

His letters and notes to us were always filled with words of wisdom and there were many times that those words sustained us in times of trial.

His favorite bible reference to us was: 

Suffering produces endurance, Endurance produces character, Character produces hope and Hope doesn’t disappoint you.  Facing adversity always meant support from him and this saying always brought us comfort and peace. 

He was inspirational when he felt we needed a lift and we were so grateful for his loving guidance. We found this writing in one of his notes to us:

 “In our age of health and wealth gospels, it is salutary to note that the concept of Christ’s kingdom is linked directly to tribulation and perseverance. Members of Christ’s kingdom will not be strangers to suffering and tribulation. Their response is perseverance. Perseverance, continuing in a direction when circumstances are not favorable is both possible and wise only because Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. The long view he wrote helps us to separate the important from the trivial.”

He wrote my sister Pam a lot, inserting his words of wisdom and inspiration. In one note he talked about Brother John and how well he was doing. He quoted 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, verse 7: Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. He said it was a good verse to live by.

It is hard to lose one’s parents, no matter how old they are, no matter how long or short their life on this earth may be. Dad lived a strong Norwegian life and made us who are today and we are all forever grateful and blessed.

These past 7 months have been honor and a privilege, and a blessing for us his children and grandchildren to take care of Dad since his first stroke in February.

I would bring my grandson Finn to the nursing home after I picked him up from kindergarten. His school was across the street from the nursing home and he would come out and say are we going to see Grandpa today? Dad’s eyes would light up when Finn came into his room saying, hi grandpa. Dad would hold his arms up to give Finn a hug. Finn loved his grandpa John and would say to me, Grandpa is really old. You’re old too Grandma but not as old as Grandpa John.

We talked about memories with dad those days in the nursing home. We quietly sat beside him afternoons and evenings as he slept, and ate with him in the dining room at Prince of Peace, reassuring him that he was not alone,  that he was loved dearly and how important he has been to us all our whole lives.

The day of his death he was lovingly surrounded by his children and his grandchildren. Dad has finally gone home to hear the words of the Lord, Welcome worthy and loyal servant.
















  1. Men such as your father are so rare. Men that leave a legend, create tradition, instil values, and mould lives are men that walk tall. They walk in the path of the Lord and live for the love of their family, friends community, and country. I think that loosing someone like your dad leaves such an impact because he made such an impact on you all; all the way down to the youngest members of your family. How John lives on in his great grandchildren is the true testament of the great man he was. I wish I had known him. It's still so strange to think he was my grandmothers first cousin because grandma has been gone so long now. My heart goes out to you Jennifer. To Pam, Reid and to each and everyone of you. There's no other way to put it other than it hurts.

  2. May God bless you and yours. You have certainly been in my thoughts and prayers. So sorry for your loss. Remember he will be with you always, each time you close your eyes and think of the good times and the obvious impact he has had on you and your whole family. Take care.

  3. The lives of you and your family are an honorable tribute to your father. God bless his memory.

  4. I ate up every word of your life with your father and the treasures you remember. You have such wonderful memories to recall each day! God Bless.