John Holm – My Grandfather

John & Victoria Holm at Home

John & Victoria Holm at Home

My grandfather John Holm passed away August 31, 1951, just a little more than a year before I was born.  As a result he is the grandparent I know the least about.

Because of this, I should start this with the facts I’ve found. John Holm (no middle name) was born September 22, 1883 in Cologne, Carver County, MN the eldest child of John E Holm and Kathryn Ann Ranft. His parents were lifetime sweethearts, who defied the ethnic restrictions and combined their lives around their Swedish and German heritage. The blending of Swedish Lutheran Evangelism and Germanic Roman Catholicism resulted in my grandfather having a deep respect for education and a devotion to the lord. (Tempered with gusto for life enhanced by good German beers.)

In about 1883, he moved with his parents to the hills just west of Valley City. His father’s 1st cousin and boyhood friend, John Anderson, a real estate developer who controlled many sections of land, convinced John Erickson Holm to sell his mercantile in Cologne and bet it all on a new life in North Dakota. All went well until sometime in 1886 when a disastrous fire consumed the entire farm, sending my Grandfather and his family back to live with relatives in Minnesota. Ten years passed until John E Holm tried North Dakota again. (Although he didn’t officially move back to North Dakota till 1896 he actively worked the land near Cuba for many years during the summers leaving the family in Minnesota.) Together with his partner John Anderson he began another farming operation, this time on the flat treeless plains near Cuba, North Dakota (southeast of Valley City). Perhaps it was a testament to John E’s vision that he christened the area Meadow Grove Farm.

As a young teenager, John Jr. helped his father expand the farm to control many sections of land (A section of land is measured one mile long and one mile wide), while establishing a hardware/mercantile store serving the needs of the small Barnes County community. On November 11, 1911 John married Victoria Anna Schiele. Victoria had come to North Dakota to work on the Holm farm to help feed the growing group of hired hands that worked the expansive fields of wheat and durum that North Dakota was known for. Victoria was the sole remnant of her family, who joined the John Schug family when her widowed mother remarried. (John Schug was a cousin of Kathryn Ranft and many of Shug’s children came to North Dakota to work the Meadow Grove Farm).

Upon his marriage John and Victoria Holm were offered their choice of a section of land or the Cuba Mercantile. (It was a source of pride for my Great Grandfather that he had accumulated enough land to marry off each of his children and provide them with their own farm.) Rightly or wrongly John chose to farm and settled with his bride in Norma Township, just southwest of Cuba, ND.

John and Victoria had five children, Dorothy Anna Storbeck, Lucille Mary Kunze, my father Clarence Louis Holm, Evelyn Catherine Grant and Walter Ervin Holm. In each, John and Victoria established a strong work ethic, a love of the teachings of the Catholic Church, along with dreams of adventure and a taste for strong beer. (There seems to be a pattern evolving here)

From federal censuses I can track the family’s growth as sons and daughters married and either left the farm or stayed on the expanding farm. The original farm grew to three sections and provided shelter and sustenance for all who stayed.

From stories I’ve been told, my grandfather enjoyed life and took relish in simple pleasures, like capturing the images of farm life with his camera and tripod or driving with his grandchildren with long cane poles tied to the car, pursuing the wily “Sunnies” that inhabited the nearby Sheyenne River that flowed through the valley just west of his farm. From photos I glimpse a man, well-rounded from good German cooking served with plenty of Swedish meatballs along with an occasional touch of Lutefisk and a side of apple flavored sauerkraut.  If I look closely, I catch in his eyes a twinkle that he retained in the face of a life that included his share of challenges.

I don’t recall my father speaking much of his dad, other than the time my mother decided I should shave off a youthful mustache I had grown in the summer of my senior year of high school. While she went on and on about how horrible it looked and how it would reflect badly on me when I went looking for work, my father waited patiently for the storm to pass and stated, “I never saw my father without a mustache and if a son of mine wants to grow one that would be his decision.” My mother never spoke of my choice of facial hair again.

While I can’t say for certain that he was without faults, I can tell you I know my father loved and respected him and missed him dearly when he was gone.


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