A lifetime of helping others: Hugh Holmes named Mitchell Republic's person of the year
“When he is needed, he is always present. Whether that may mean he can help from behind the scenes in the background, he is always present,” Davison County Veterans Service Officer Craig Bennett said of Holmes.
MITCHELL — Nothing can stop Hugh Holmes from supporting his community and the long list of local organizations that mean the world to him.
Not even cancer.
While Holmes was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago, it couldn’t keep him from volunteering for the organizations and clubs that he’s been a part of for much of his life.
"You don’t really remember you have cancer when you are helping others."
- Hugh Holmes
From honoring local military veterans at special events to setting up Mitchell’s annual Veterans Day Luncheon , Holmes spends more time helping others in the community on a yearly basis than most do in an entire lifetime.
“I just like helping everyone I can in the community,” Holmes said. “The satisfaction I get from helping others is unlike anything.”
He doesn’t do it for recognition, social media shout-outs or the hope of getting something in return. He does it for perhaps the most pure reason of all: helping improve the lives of fellow community members.
For his dedication and commitment to the lives of Mitchell area residents for decades, Holmes has been named the Mitchell Republic’s 2021 Person of the Year.
After Holmes retired from teaching in 2013, his life didn’t slow down. Rather, it got busier with all of the volunteer efforts the 69-year-old has been making over the years. Since retiring, Holmes has served as the state commander of South Dakota's American Legion , volunteered for South Dakota Boys State, helped local Boy Scouts develop into leaders and actively served as a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 2750.
FROM 2013: Boys Nation delegates both from Mitchell
When he's not volunteering, Holmes finds time to attend bridge dedication ceremonies to honor fallen military soldiers and support Mitchell High School and Dakota Wesleyan University athletics.
As Davison County Veterans Services Officer Craig Bennett put it, Holmes is a “hidden diamond” for the Mitchell community.
“When he is needed, he is always present. Whether that may mean helping from behind the scenes in the background or speaking to a group, he is always present,” Bennett said.
Holmes said it was tough news when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago. Despite having to spend some of his time in doctors offices and undergoing chemotherapy, Holmes managed to stay just as involved in the organizations throughout the past two years. He’s found that staying active in the community has been one of the best medicines of all.
“You don’t really remember you have cancer when you are helping others,” Holmes said.
He credits his wife, Linda Holmes, for helping him keep going. Over the past 47 years, Linda has been by his side at every event, ceremony and athletic outing. Together, the couple has made a big impact on the community through their active involvement in many organizations and clubs.
“Behind every great man is a great woman,” Holmes said of his wife.
Staying true to military roots
Whether it’s a bridge dedication ceremony for fallen soldiers, a funeral for a veteran or Memorial Day services, Holmes can be found at seemingly every military event in the Mitchell area.
After spending over 20 years in the U.S. Army, Holmes developed a “deep love” for his fellow veterans.
As a Navy veteran who has spent much of his life helping veterans in need, Bennett knows what it means to be honored for serving in the military. He said “nobody understands” what it means for veterans to receive the honors they deserve better than Holmes.
“[Holmes] has had a huge impact on making sure our veterans get the military honors that they deserve,” Bennett said. “There is no better honor than to send a veteran off like that.”
Since retiring from the Army in 1997, Holmes has stayed active in every local military organization. He played an integral role in getting Veteran's Park built on Mitchell’s Main Street and has served as the emcee for the annual Veterans Day luncheon for 11 years .
Earlier this week, Holmes braved subzero temperatures to take part in a 21-gun salute for a Marine veteran's funeral at the Graceland Cemetery.
“He is behind the scenes on everything, like working to get the Veterans Park here and being there whenever he is needed,” Bennett said. “I don’t think there has ever been a time that a ‘no’ has came from his mouth."
‘He truly cared about every student’
While he spent nearly two decades as a math teacher at Mitchell High School, Holmes taught his students much more than algebra equations. As a former educator, he inspired his students to develop a sense of community.
From the moment Kendell Smith set foot in Holmes’ student resource block (SRB) classroom as a freshman, she felt like she belonged. Smith said Holmes created an environment that taught her what it means to truly be a part of a community, and more importantly, how to care for everyone in that community.
“The camaraderie he brought to our room was really where I learned how to be a part of a community,” she said of Holmes. “It didn’t matter who you were, Mr. Holmes made sure you were a part of the community.”
Although painful, a memory Smith recalls that exemplified the way Holmes cared about his students came after one of her former SRB classmates was murdered.
As students funneled in for another period of SRB, an emotional Holmes opened the class by expressing his sympathies for the loss of his former student, Jasmine Guevara . Smith said seeing Holmes shed tears for the loss of the late Guevara reminded her and her classmates how much “he truly cared about all of us.”
“I remember him standing in front of the room talking about that tragic moment, letting us know he will be there for us to help us get through the tragedy,” Smith said.
Now an accountant in Des Moines, Iowa, Smith said she has used the life lessons Holmes instilled in her out of room 203 to make the community where she resides a better place.
“The way he built everyone up in the classroom and encouraged us to give back and be a part of the community is something I will always carry with me wherever I go,” she said.
Past winners of the Mitchell Republic's person of the year award:
2013: Ken Tracy, Mitchell mayor
2014: Wessington Springs tornado first responders
2015: Gary Gjesdal, of Plankinton
2016: Lyndon Overweg, Mitchell public safety chief
2017: Julie Brookbank, Mitchell Technical Institute
2018: Gary Van Roekel, of Mitchell
2019: South Dakota farmers
2020: Health care heroes
2021: Hugh Holmes, of Mitchell