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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

Napa Valley College Sparked Career of Local Educator John Holder

John Holder is now 82, and he fondly remembers how Napa Valley College played a huge part in starting his 34-year career as a Napa educator.

“I came to Napa as a fifth-grader in 1945 with my hard-working, but uneducated parents, attended Napa schools and graduated Napa High School in 1953,” Holder recalls. He wasted no time marrying his high-school sweetheart, Carol Moore, whose folks ran the Deluxe Donut Shop on Main Street.

“A month after graduation I got married and attended Napa College, becoming the first in my family to attend college. There’s no way I’d have been able to afford to go to college if it hadn’t been for the community college,” he said. “It gave me a good financial boost going on to Sacramento State College.”

“My folks were good, loving parents. Dad was a very honest man, always helping others. He’d give me whatever money he could afford. He was smart, though uneducated, worked at a little of everything, worked at a dry cleaner, as a painter and as a boiler engineer at Napa State Hospital,” Holder remembers. “At the time I started Napa College, mom and dad were both working at Napa State Hospital, just getting by with my younger brother still at home. They didn’t have money for my books or tuition.”

Holder made ends meet by working nearly full-time in a Napa grocery store while attending school full-time.

He studied math, science, calculus, chemistry and physics, and has fond memories of instructors Albert Pedler (business), Bob Covey (physical education), Bob Bernard (social science), Lou Carter (science), Walter Hemmerling (languages), Leo Trepp (social sciences) and Dennis Patterson (political science).

“I didn’t have time to study while at Napa College because I started school at 8 a.m. and worked at the grocery store from 3 p.m. until midnight, and on weekends. Harry Tranmer, my advanced math teacher, was concerned about my grades and test scores,” Holder recalled. “He knew I had the ability but he understood what I was going through as a newlywed and working full-time. He was a strong encourager. ‘You can do this,’ he kept telling me.”

After graduating from Napa College, Holder’s father proudly paid the $35 tuition for his son’s first semester at Sacramento State College. He got into Sac State on the basis of his entrance test scores and was accepted on probation. But by the end of his first year at Sac State he was pulling down straight A’s and off probation.

His wife, Carol, became the sole breadwinner, so that her husband could devote his time to school.

“My dad got to see me graduate Sac State in 1957, but he died in 1960 at 54. He would have been proud of me,” said Holder.

Holder started teaching at Westwood Elementary in 1957, but was drafted into military service.

“I shouldn’t have been drafted because I was married, and I had a contract to teach in Napa,” said Holder. “But, I failed to notify the Draft Board that I was actually teaching. Dr. Harry MacPherson, the superintendent, didn’t believe in asking for deferments, but he did ask them to let me finish my first year at Westwood.”

In the Army, Holder became a chaplain’s assistant in Texas. “Our first child, for whom we had prayed for 7 years, was born seven days before I got out of the Army.” When he returned to Westwood, Principal Jim Gibbany encouraged Holder to go back to school, so that he would be prepared to become a principal.

At the time, Holder was a father of three little girls, earning $4,000 a year as a teacher. The previous year he had made $5,600 a year working part-time at a grocery store. But, while teaching full time, he studied for his master’s degree in the evenings and went to classes on Saturday mornings.

“Jim taught my class so I could leave an hour early to go to my class in San Francisco,” Holder recalled. Holder earned his master’s degree in education at San Francisco State in 1966, when Dr. Win Payne was superintendent.

“Jim and Assistant Superintendent Herb Salinger got Dr. Payne, who hired a lot of principals, to hire me for my first principal job, at age 29.”

Holder’s contemporaries in the school district were some of Napa’s most notable Napa educators, including Jim Templin, Floyd Seifert, Ed Henderson, Jim Gibbany, Ed Solomon and others.

Holder served 34 years in education, including 27 of those years as principal at Westwood, Northwood, Salvador, Yountville, Snow, Wooden Valley, Capell and El Centro schools. “I’m proud of what I accomplished, especially considering my earlier background,” he said.

John and Carol, his wife of 64 years, have four children, including a daughter, Pam Perkins, who is currently principal at Salvador and El Centro. Her daughter, Kacy Perkins, attended Napa Valley College and earned a softball scholarship to attend Lyons College in Batesville, Arkansas, where she is studying fashion design.

Holder said he offered to tell his story, in the hopes that it may help someone else decide to attend the local community college.

He also credits his wife Carol for working hard to help put him through school. He and his daughter made a “PHT” certificate for Carol, which stands for “Put Hubby Through.”

“There were a lot of things I could do, and did, because Carol had so much faith in me. I couldn’t let her down,” said Holder, who still chuckles about his 64-year marriage.

“We’ve worn out our wedding rings – they don’t last 64 years,” he said. “Every day I thank God that I’ve lived this long, but also that I still have Carol.”

He said that the secrets to a long marriage are, “Having a common faith, perseverance, hard work, a sense of humor and not giving up.”

“God has a great sense of humor to let two opposites fall in love and then tell them to now live together. But, wouldn’t it be boring if we were both just alike?” Holder asked. “It took us 64 years to find out we are so opposite,” Carol added.

Editor’s note: Napa Valley College is turning 75 this year, spurring alumni to come forward with their stories about how the college played a pivotal role in their lives. This is one of those stories.

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