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Remembering Bill

March 9, 2009
By Rae Kruger

MINNEOTA - In a small church in Minneota on Sunday, a funeral was held for a big man.

Writer Bill Holm's friends and family gathered at St. Paul's Lutheran Church to grieve and celebrate a man with a large physical presence at about 6-foot-5 and a large literary presence in Minnesota and across the country.

Holm, 65, of Minneota, died Wednesday, Feb. 25, from complications of pneumonia at a Sioux Falls, S.D., hospital.

Article Photos

Photo by Rae Kruger
Mourners gather outside St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Minneota on Sunday after funeral services took place for Bill Holm.

Among those who filled the sanctuary and basement of the church built in 1895 by Icelandic immigrants was Garrison Keillor of American Public Media's Prairie Home Companion and Madison native and poet Robert Bly.

Sunday's service, which was broadcast at the Minneota America Legion, included a traditional liturgy, musical performances of many of Holm's favorite pieces, Holm's own words about himself and comments which caused family and friends to cry and laugh about a writer who said and wrote what he thought and challenged others to do likewise.

"(Bill's) a good man, but he was wrong about a lot of things," Keillor said after the service. "Now, I won't get the chance to tell him all that. He was wrong about Icelanders being a superior people. We've seen that the last few months. Now, I will never get the chance to drive that point home."

Fact Box

Minnesota Public Radio is planning an event in St. Paul at the Fitzgerald Theater at 7:30 pm on April 7, the billholm.com Web site said.

The St. Cloud Unitarian Universalist Fellowship will be honoring the memory of Holm at 10:30 a.m. on March 22 at., the Web site billholm.com said. Holm was scheduled to be the guest speaker that day.

A framed photo of Holm was placed at the front of the sanctuary before the altar.

The church, which holds a couple hundred people with eight rows of pews on each side, was filled, and several dozen chairs in the basement were occupied as well.

Holm was proud of his Icelandic roots and heritage and spent much of the past 10 summers in Iceland.

Friends in Iceland were able to watch a live broadcast of the service via the Internet.

Holm's love and knowledge of Iceland was so great that he taught a native Icelander more about how to be an Icelander, Thorun Bjarnadottir said at Holm's visitation Saturday night in Minneota.

"Bill, in a way, helped me quite a bit to learn what it meant to be an Icelander," Bjarnadottir said Saturday. Bjarnadottir had moved to Minneapolis and met Holm while she was an intern for Minnesota Public Radio.

Being an Icelander means being eccentric, being yourself and allowing yourself to show your emotions, even though Icelanders aren't known for doing so, Bjarnadottir said.

She is now teaching her son her native language and customs, because it was Holm who urged her to do so, Bjarnadottir said.

Bjarnadottir and her family were among those at the funeral Sunday.

"I sat in the basement," Keillor said. "It's the first time I've sat in the basement of a Lutheran church in a long time. I assume that's for those paying penance for their public sins. I accept that."

Despite sitting in the basement, the church was the place for Holm's funeral, Keillor said.

The Rev. Stephen Rasmusson cited Holm's long-time family roots to the church.

Holm literally had a special place in church on a wooden chair in the choir loft from which is voice could be heard throughout the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.

"It was different today. We didn't hear Bill's voice," church member David Gislason said Sunday morning.

About an hour before the Sunday afternoon funeral, Frank Josephson brought a Sunday newspaper and laid it on Holm's chair.

"There is a chair and a newspaper in the chair where Bill normally sat...," Rasmusson said during the funeral.

Holm sat with the newspaper over his face during sermons, Rasmussen said.

"If he heard a phrase or comment that caught his ear, the paper would lower," Rasmusson said.

Holm's service included a traditional liturgy and musical contributions from friends who sang, and played the piano, organ and harpsichord.

"They played a lot of Bill's favorite music," Keillor said.

Service music included Variations in F Minor by Franz Joseph Haydn, Largo by Georg F. Handel and Lament by Johann Sebastian Bach.

The music and Holm's own words filled the service.

"Bill Holm is not here today but his words certainly are," fellow writer and friend John Rezmerski who attended graduate school with Holm said.

Rezmerski quoted from some of Holm's 16 books of poetry and essays.

Holm wrote of a boy who was bored with the farm. "I wanted books and music," Rezmerski quoted in his eulogy.

Rezmerski quoted Holm's work, which challenged the reader to question what he heard in school, church or from the government as absolute truth and that "there is always one more idea."

 
 

 

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