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A father's legacy lives on


December 7, 2017

Courtesy photo

Former Thompson Falls High School Superintendent Oliver "Rip" Holo passed away

Mary Holo, who now lives in Eugene, Ore., wrote the following column in memory of her father, Oliver "Rip" Holo (1927-2013) and the local friends and supporters who helped him leave a legacy. Rip Holo died Dec. 29, 2013, and Mary Holo attended Thompson Falls Elementary in second through sixth grade.

It was a fall day, Tues. Oct. 17, 1972 and it was Opening Day for the new Thompson Falls High School, home of the Blue Hawks. On this day, Oliver ('Rip') Holo, superintendent, stood proudly among the citizens of the community, the Board of Trustees, the school board, staff, parents, students, and his own family, greeting all who entered.

I was a child then, but looking back I don't wonder that he recalled that moment as the highlight of his career. Reflecting on a life often brings clarity, and one can't help but note the contrast between this 45-year-old husband and father of four, with the boy he was in high school. At 17, he was devilishly handsome with dark slicked-back hair, a slight build and a swagger of false confidence. He stood in the hallway of the small North Dakota high school his father had helped build. It was early in his senior year and Rip, unlike his parents, had made it all the way to 12th grade, and yet this would be his last day of attendance. I can visualize him standing alone outside the school, angry and terrified as he faced the future of a boy expelled for truancy, months before he would have graduated from high school.

This experience, disappointing and humiliating, was not likely the first time he had felt the sting of injustice. One of seven children coming of age during the depression, he was raised by two immigrant parents who lacked formal education. He and his older siblings worked odd jobs to support themselves, hence the difficulty with school attendance. He knew he had no voice, and would have no recourse. The feeling of being scorned and marginalized by the more powerful and educated adults, who could alter his future in a moments time, never left him. He spoke of this day often. His life took a different path when he lied about his age to be accepted in to the military early, and served six years for his country in two different wars.

Of the experiences he repeated from this time, one stands above the rest. One afternoon, while on leave in the South Pacific, he and a fellow sailor grabbed a few six-packs of beer and went exploring the beach. He recalls coming upon a shack with a dirt floor, converted into a school. He distinctly remembers being awestruck with these children's desire to learn, and the obvious dedication this teacher portrayed, especially in this time of war. Many years later, he would credit these experiences with his passion to become a teacher.

Much later, after obtaining a Master's degree in education and administration, you would hear him repeat, "I will never kick a kid out of school, not ever." He would, however, quickly follow this with "Of course, they will have to tow the line. And I'll ride 'em till they do, but I'll never kick 'em out." For those who chose to leave, usually unwilling to commit to the expectation of respect and responsibility required, he would tell them, "These doors are always open if you want another chance, but we're going to do it my way." Rip always gave second chances.

He gave lots of chances, rarely held a grudge, was a passionate man who put kids first. He was also in possession of a short fuse, a hot temper and a generous, kind heart as big as the sky. He was an anxious man, who paced the carpet thin in our home as he prepared for meetings or anticipated school levies and sports events. He loved his community and served wherever he went. When he came to Thompson Falls in August of 1969, he had been in the school business for over 20 years, and he knew he had hard work ahead. He was beginning what he would later refer to as "the biggest achievement of my career." Over the next four years, Mr. Holo provided the leadership with which to achieve the building of a new High School in Thompson Falls. Everyone knew how much this was needed.

Mr. Holo never wanted a student from a small town to have less opportunity than those from larger, more affluent communities. He saw the need not just for a new school, but a "state of the art" high school that would allow graduating students to acquire the necessary education to succeed in college, in life and beyond. He wanted Thompson Falls to be proud of and support this new school, and he took pride in knowing this small town would have a state of the art science room, a beautiful, large gymnasium, a special music room, and many other 'bells and whistles' he had admired over the years in larger schools.

The summer before the school was complete, my brother and I frequently came with Dad on days off to wander the empty hallways, enjoying the echoing sound of our sandals on the shiny linoleum floors as we ran up and down the long hallways. As the school got closer to completion, Dad could talk of nothing else, and desired to share it with us. As he opened the door to the huge, dark gymnasium and flipped on the multiple rows of light switches, the room seemed to come alive. I had grown up in schools, but not like this one. Dad walked to the center of the gymnasium, gazing up and all around, likely imagining the events that would soon fill this room. As we followed him down the long hallways, I remember the emotion; excited, happy and proud. In the science room, he encouraged me to run my hands along the cold, black countertops, turn on the water faucets and watch the cold-water rush from the high arching spigots and splash into the palms of my outstretched hands. He lit a Bunsen burner to show me how they worked, and let me peek under the big hood, which he explained was to keep the future students safe from dangerous fumes. He was so excited about this room. He said, "No one in the state has a nicer one than this one, honey." I believe he was right, and if he wasn't it didn't matter because he believed it.

Today the Blue Hawks are as proud as ever, the junior high school recently receiving the most prestigious award of its kind this academic year of 2017, being named a National Title 1 Distinguished School (see Oct. 5, 2017 issue of The Ledger). So much has changed in 45 years, but much is the same. Thompson Falls is still a town that loves its people, supports its schools and businesses and welcomes families that want to participate and become one of them. Visitors and residents alike continue to experience Thompson's pride, history and natural surrounding beauty and recreation. They support local businesses and one another, and they keep "showing up" and working hard. These things haven't changed at all, in nearly half a century since our new school was built.

Thank you, Thompson Falls, for five very special years in the 1970s. The ripple effect is still being felt after all these years, as the next graduating class flips their tassels, as we drive up the Blue Slide or out Prospect Creek, or stand in awe at the beauty of the view of the Clark Fork River from the top of Cedar Street, where we once lived. I can still feel it and I know Dad would too, if he were here.


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