(This is the final in a four-part series on the life and “Ornery Times” of Chadron resident Don Holst.)
Don Holst, 81, of Chadron, was born during the Great Depression and grew up during World War II.
Of his birth and upbringing, Holst said, “I was conceived the day the stock market fell. So I was off to a good start. When I got a little older, we had a world war. It was ornery times.”
Holst has been memorialized for his unorthodox coaching methods in a story by Con Marshall for pulling runners on a rope behind an old Chevy to improve their speed.
Holst also recalled that since the track program had a very small budget, he would have his athletes run up the stairs in High Rise. However, to avoid the detrimental effect of running back down the stairs, coach and athletes would take the elevator back down. This seemed a great idea until some students in the hall complained the elevators had a bad smell.
After nine years at CSC, Holst sought to expand his horizons. He moved on to teach and coach at McKendree University in Lebanon, Ill.
Holst spent about 16 years at McKendree, during which time he served as a coach, professor, head of secondary education, and interim dean.
In the 1980s, Holst also spent an abundance of time as coach for blind athletes. And in 1983 he coached at the International Games for the Blind in New York.
Holst said, “The experience was really great. They were some of the best athletes I have been honored to coach.”
Holst became interested in the Olympic Oak trees during the 1980s.
The trees were a group of 130 saplings presented by Adolf Hitler to gold-medal winners at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
Of approximately 24 saplings brought home by athletes from the U.S., many died or disappeared. Holst heard from one athlete that his sapling was confiscated by customs in New York City, to be checked for bugs, and then never seen again. (Read more about Holst’s Olympic Oaks below.)
Holst retired in 1991 and a few years later, returned to Chadron where he built a cabin a few miles south of town.
Since then he has kept up a steady pace of projects including painting, writing poetry, authoring two books about athletes, and donating Olympic Oak saplings.
When I asked Holst about being so busy as a retiree, he said, “I guess I’m retired.”
His books “American Men of Olympic Track and Field: Interviews with Athletes and Coaches,” co-authored with Marcia S. Popp, and “Famous Football Players in Their 4th Quarter,” have been generally well received.
Among his letters, Holst has one from Warren Buffet, chairman of Berkshier Hathaway, Inc., saying he enjoyed the book.
Buffet also states, “Believe it or not, I was a water boy for two Redskin games in which Sammy Baugh started.” Baugh’s picture is the cover of Holst’s book.
Holst remains fairly active these days, and is well-known around Chadron. I walked around Walmart with him recently, and nearly every person greeted him by name.
One man brought a quick smile to Holst’s lips when he yelled “hey coach!”
In summation of his life’s deeds and accomplishments, Holst said, “Whatever happens to an individual is because of the goodness of somebody else. All the fun and games I’ve had are directly or indirectly because of someone else.”