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Renaissance man returns to his Rushford roots


Fri, Jun 13th, 2003
Posted in Features

Richard Holle paints the peak on the Boyum Building in downtown Rushford recently. He has converted the building to an art center for local artists and has donated space to the Rushford Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Holly Holle

Friend hear thewords my wanderingthoughts would say.I’ve found the grandestplace in all the U.S.A.–Rushford, Minn

(an antique plaque in Richard and Holly Holle’s new "meeting room")

You can look at an old commercial building on any main street as a piece of history just waiting to be restored, or you can think of the movie called "The Money Pit." Richard and Holly Holle of Rushford take the first, more optimistic view and are thrilled to be currently restoring the old "Boyum Building" on Jessie Street.That’s not to say that some comparisons to "The Money Pit" wouldn’t be appropriate. The building was not in good shape. The Holles had to start with completely updating the plumbing and electrical systems. The building’s east wall was literally crumbling and had to be totally replaced. Some of the wooden floors were salvageable, but most were not.Still, there have been many unexpected rewards. Like the perfectly preserved 1914 newspapers found under some linoleum. Or the large American flag with forty-eight stars.And there are other intangible rewards for restoring the community’s oldest commercial building, built in 1858. City manager Larry Bartelson says the community feels immense "gratitude to the Holles for the time, effort and resources invested to save part of our history.""To have a building that was actually used for business in the 1850's is important to our history, and our identity," Bartelson continues.City Councilman Norris Kinneberg agrees that a project like restoring the Boyum Building will be "appreciated by generations to come."Kinneberg never expected anyone to be willing to restore the building, but says he knew "if anybody could do it, Richard and Holly could."Richard Holle was born in Rushford ("Brooklyn") and was on the first high school golf team ("a bunch of us baseball players talked the coach into it"). His father died before Richard was two years old, but Holle says the one thing he remembers learning about his Norwegian ancestors was that "they worked hard." As he went out to "make his way in the world", as he puts it, he ascribed to the hard work ideal."Making his way in the world" seems a bit modest for a guy with advanced degrees in biology, who has also studied psychology, space chemistry, has received a grant from the National Science Foundation, worked for the National Security Agency, and speaks fluent Chinese. You have to drag those facts out of him. But he’ll readily admit that his passion is thoroughbred race horses. He trains them, but doesn’t race them himself. "I’m too big," he says.Holle reconnected with Rushford about ten years ago when he bought the Tagland building sight unseen, where his grandfather once had a grocery store. From 1993 to 1995 he and Holly worked to restore that building which now houses the Tri-County Record, with a spacious apartment on the upper floor. The Holles stayed in the apartment each summer when they visited Rushford from their home in California. But soon visiting wasn’t enough."It was like living at a resort," Holle says of his home at Bear Creek Country Club in California. "It wasn’t home."His wife adds that she missed being able to plant things, or mow her own lawn. "And you never saw anyone you knew," she says, contrasting that with life in Rushford where you can get to the grocery store in "two minutes, but you’d better allow an extra half hour to talk to people."Richard especially hated the freeway out west, where "everybody is rushing at eighty-five-miles-per-hour–to nowhere."Last year they decided to make Rushford home, and purchased a house on Stevens Avenue that was being used for apartments. They’ve learned that the building was once Rushford’s first school. More significant to Holle is that the large stone house was a nursing home forty years ago and his grandfather, Albert J. Holle, spent his final days there.The Holles have donated office space to the Chamber of Commerce on the main floor of the Boyum Building. The rest of the space will be used for the new Rushford Center for the Arts, where local artists can display their work. Holle was interested in developing the art center because it is something that "enriches the town," and also, to the rest of the world, an art center "shows the values of the people and the community." Their friend Creighton Horihan of Rushford Floor Covering agrees that artists are one of the areas greatest "untapped resources."The real interest in art probably comes from Holly Holle, a former art major, who has observed that "Rushford has a great number of local artists with no place to display." Incidently, if you’re curious about the homonyms that make up her unique name, "Holly" is not her real first name. It is the somewhat obscure, Irish, "Moonyeen", which was difficult for people. "Everyone just started calling me Holly, so I go by Holly."So you could pronounce her name "Holly Holly", which is what most of the world says. But if you want the true Norwegian pronunciation of her last name, it should sound like "holy."Letitia Kopperud of Norman’s Electric met the Holles about ten years ago when they worked together to support the "famous Rushford flower baskets" that continue to line the city streets today. "I’ll tell you a story that shows what kind of generous person she (Holly) is," Kopperud says. At the time that they met, Holly mentioned to Letitia that she liked to "draw and paint a little.""What do you draw?" Letitia asked."Oh, just fruits and vegetables."Somewhere in the conversation Kopperud mentioned that she really liked beets. A short time after the Holles returned home that year, a package arrived for Kopperud from California: a beautiful colored pencil drawing of beets (by Holly) that hangs in the Kopperud kitchen.Beneath his warm, optimistic exterior, Richard Holle admits that he has a concern for Rushford. He remembers a time when quiet, neighboring burgs like Hart, Choice, Arendahl, Pilot Mound, and Bratsberg were bustling centers of commerce. He would like to help "head off that decline" in Rushford."We can’t wait until Rome is burning to do something," he says.The Holles have no definite plans for after the Boyum Building is finished. But he tosses out the idea that a medical lab of some sort in Rushford’s industrial park would sure benefit the community."You see," he adds, "we’re both biologists," as if this lab idea needs some justification.Holle seems a bit shy when asked why he’s continued to give so much to this community over the years, in the forms of scholarships, the flower baskets, the Chamber of Commerce office, and more.Finally he sums it up this way: "Life is always exciting. I’d like to help keep it that way."

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