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Don Holden, 97, of St. Cloud, MN, passed away on July 15, 2022, at Quiet Oaks Hospice in St. Augusta, MN. He was born Donald Milton on May 22, 1925, to Myrtle (Tye) and Warren “Curly” Holden, at home in Deerfield Township west of Backus, MN.
Starting at a one-room school, he graduated valedictorian from Backus High School just after his 17th birthday. Before his junior year in college, the Northome School Board drafted him to coach football and basketball and teach math under a provisional license. That fall, he founded the Northland Athletic Conference, and led his young football team to the championship. He then earned his Bachelor’s degree at Bemidji State, and Master’s and Doctorate of Education at the University of Wyoming. During his 42-year career as a math teacher, coach, principal and professor, he impacted students from Red Lake to Austin, Columbia Heights to St. Cloud State. He supervised student teachers and taught educational administration, guiding new generations of principals and superintendents. He helped develop Community Ed in Minnesota, believing that our school buildings and systems should serve not just students, but everyone from infants to elders.
After “retirement,” wherever Don saw a need, he worked to fill it. He expanded his love of horseback riding to create Project ASTRIDE, a therapeutic riding program that allowed people with disabilities to feel freedom of movement atop a horse. As President of the MN Trail Riders Association, he helped improve and expand horse trails across the state. As a volunteer at Sterling Park nursing home, Don provided personal iPods with playlists for folks who loved polkas, waltzes, or rock. His seven-year volunteer stint ended when he was 95, cut short by the Covid pandemic.
Although 97 years old, Don was young at heart. His doctor called him “the Poster Boy of Geriatrics.” Don loved basketball as a player, coach, referee and fan, holding Husky season tickets for over 20 years. He felt at home in the woods, hiking, horseback riding, 4-wheeling, snowmobiling, or cutting trees to maintain the forest. A few days before his illness, he played a round of golf. He enjoyed bowling, playing guitar, and entertaining family and friends. He is most remembered for his special ability to meet new people and make personal connections, telling funny stories that resonated and echoed across time.
Don was preceded in death by his first wife, Beverly Ekholm Holden. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; son, Kent (Kai); daughters, Ellen Hadley (Marc) and Kari Hagman; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life will be held at Celebration Lutheran Church in Sartell, Friday, August 5th, with visitation at 12:45 p.m. and the service at 2:00. Burial will be in Evergreen Cemetery, Backus. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Quiet Oaks Hospice, R.E.A.M. (retired educators), or the St. Cloud State Women’s Basketball program.
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