COACH, AUTHOR, ARTIST DON HOLST DIES AT 83

Posted 1 year ago

By John Axtell

Don Holst obitCHADRON – One of the Chadron area’s most colorful and talented individuals, Dr. Don Holst, died early Saturday, Nov. 2 at his home south of Chadron. He was 83.

At his request, his body has been cremated and no services will take place.

Holst had many accomplishments and  interests as an athlete, a Marine officer, a high school and college teacher, a coach, an artist and an author, among other things.

In November 2007 when Holst was to speak at the Graves Lecture Series at CSC, the late Milton Wolf, director of the Reta King Library, introduced him as a “a Renaissance jock” and “an unusually gifted person.”
Several friends have noted that Holst was definitely “unique.” He was outgoing, had definitive opinions and a wide cross-section of friends.

Holst initially came to Chadron State in the fall of 1965 as the head track and field coach, assistant football coach and to teach physical education. He remained at the college through the 1972-73 school year, then completed work on his doctorate in education at Montana State University the following year.

He went on to serve on the faculty at McKendree College at Lebanon, Ill., (near St. Louis) from 1975 until he retired in 1991.  In 1999, Holst returned to the Chadron area and built a cabin near the City Reservoirs.

Don Holst in 2011 - photo Chadron State Eagle - Kevin Oleksy

Don Holst in 2011 – photo Chadron State Eagle – Kevin Oleksy

Holst was born and raised in Marysville, Kan., during an era he described as “ornery times” that included the Great Depression and World War II.

He said at age 5 he began playing the drum in the city band directed by his grandfather. He was an outstanding high school athlete, helping the Marysville High School football team go undefeated in 28 games from 1944 through 1948.

He also lettered all four years in both football and track and field at Emporia State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1953. He was inducted into that school’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.

As he was graduating from college, Holst enlisted in the Marine Corps. After going through officer’s training, he was on active duty in Central America for two years and then remained in the reserves. He was the commanding officer of the Third Engineer Maintenance Company based in Lincoln and consisting of about 135 members early in his employment at Chadron State.

Holst earned a master’s degree from the University of Missouri in 1957 and taught and coached at Northland College in Wisconsin and Midland Lutheran in Fremont before coming to CSC. All of the Eagles’ track and field records had been set during his eight years at the college when he left in 1973.

In 1968 while he was at Chadron State, Holst spent a couple of weeks working with decathletes who were training for the U.S. Olympic team before returning to the college to help coach the football team. He also coached blind athletes at the International Games in New York in 1983 while he was at McKendree College.

Also when he was at McKendree, Holst began conducting research for two books that he eventually published. The first was “American Men of Olympic Track and Field.” It was co-written by Marsha Popp, a McKendree colleague after Holst had traveled throughout the nation to interview 16 Olympians, including middle distance runners John Woodruff, Glenn Cunningham and Wes Santee, decathlon champions Bob Mathias and Bruce Jenner and high jumper Dick Fosbury.

Holt with Jesse Owens at CSC in 1968 - photo courtesy Don Holst and the Chadron State Eagle

Holt with Jesse Owens at CSC in 1968 – photo courtesy Don Holst and the Chadron State Eagle

The second book was “Famous Football Players in Their Fourth Quarters.” It probed the lives of 19 renowned gridiron stars, including six Heisman Trophy winners and eleven players who earned all-pro honors. The interviews were conducted from 10 to 40 years after they had ended their football careers.

Another of Holst’s endeavors was trying to keep what he called “Olympic oak trees” alive. He became interested in the trees while attending a reunion of the U.S.’s 1936 Olympic team in Columbus, Ohio, in 1986. He learned that the 24 Americans who won gold medals at the Olympics, which were in Berlin, also were given a small oak tree that was native to northern Germany.

He found that five of them in the U.S. were still alive, but that only one of them produced acorns. That tree belonged to John Woodruff, the 800-meter champion, and was planted at Woodruff’s high school in Connellsville, Pa.

He eventually collected about 15 acorns from the tree, but he planted them just a few inches below the surface and squirrels dug up most of them.

The next year, the school secretary sent him about 50 acorns from the tree and Holst grew about 35 seedlings, most of which he tried to transplant strategic locations involving athletics. Because of his efforts, Holst received the International Arbor Day Award from Arbor Lodge at Nebraska City in 1987.

One of the seedlings was planted on the Chadron State campus, but it apparently was the victim of an insecticide used to control weeds in the adjacent lawn and did not survive.

Later, Holst received hundreds of acorns that were produced by a tree that was given to Jack Lovelock, the 1500-meter champion from New Zealand. Although the first batch of about 600 was made sterile when they were sprayed by bromide at the California port where they arrived, he succeeded in getting several from a much smaller shipment to produce trees, including one that at last report was still flourishing at his acreage south of Chadron.

Don Holst 2009After moving back to Chadron, Holst used his art talent produce a 3×6-foot oil painting of 38 cowboys from six states who gathered in Deadwood, S.D., in 1905 to board a train so they could attend Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration. He sold the painting for more than $11,000 to the Wild West Casino in Deadwood and used the proceeds to help build the cabin that became his home.

He also donated several oil and acrylic paintings that hang in classrooms in the Math and Science Building at CSC in memory of his friend, Dr. Ron Weedon, a professor of physical and life sciences at the college for nearly 40 years.

In recent years, Holst had experienced heart problems and spent considerable time at Veterans’ Administration clinics and hospitals. He told a friend that he often tried to cheer up the patients by telling them jokes and stories.

He was born April 24, 1930 to Elmer and Hilda Holst in Marysville and married Bevely Markel in 1953 when they were both seniors at Emporia State. They were divorced for 40 years, but remained friends until his death and she still lives in Chadron. They had two children, Chris, a teacher at Metropolitan College in Omaha, and LeAnn Robbins and her husband Ron of Chadron.

Other survivors include four grandchildren, Adrienne Lurvey of Lincoln, Jim C. Manternach of Rapid City, Joe Manternach and wife Kathleen of Chadron and Melissa Manternach of Chadron, three great-grandchildren and a sister, Joan Berg, of Railto, Calif.