Ellsworth Holm, 88, started his career sitting in an office for a corporate entity in the Twin Cities.
But that wasn’t the lifestyle he wanted.
“I had the best job in the country,” Holm said. “When I changed to working in the office, I was kinda bored. But when I got into teaching, that was my field.”
Holm returned to college and shifted gears to pursue a degree in education so that he could spend the last 30 years of his professional career teaching business in Alexandria. He’s continued to stay involved since retiring in the 1990s and recently donated $25,000 to the Distributive Education Clubs of America, or DECA, Foundation.
There are varying levels of DECA Foundation donors, including both individuals and businesses in the community. To date, the foundation has raised around $320,000 and has a goal of reaching $500,000.
“For him to give such a generous amount is pretty unbelievable for all of us involved,” said Eric Hartmann, business and DECA teacher at Alexandria Area High School.
As an 89th birthday present and to honor his contribution, Hartmann is working with school administrators to have a classroom in the business academy named after Holm.
There is no language in the school board’s current policy around the naming of classrooms, but the superintendent and the Alexandria Board of Education will be forming a process in the coming months, said Jill Johnson, communications and marketing director of Alexandria Public Schools.
Some learning spaces at Alexandria Area High School were named after donors from the 2011 campaign, an effort that raised more than $5 million in pledged contributions from individuals, businesses and other community groups to reduce the cost of the new high school.
“We are so grateful to have such a generous community and people like Ellsworth,” Hartmann said. “We will work to see how we can honor Mr. Holm for his tremendous generosity.”
In the early 1970s, Holm helped transition vocational clubs into more specific subgroups, including an office education program and DECA.
As the first DECA program advisor, Holm said he enjoyed working with students and helping them develop their career paths.
Now, when Holm walks downtown or visits a local store, former students will approach him and thank him for how he invested in them during their high school years.
“I get a lot of positive feedback from the students,” Holm said. “I think that’s the most rewarding thing.”
Although he stepped away from his role as a full-time teacher, Holm said he’s stayed involved in other ways. He helped out as a substitute teacher until the high school’s model shifted to academies. Now, Holm is in charge of “Terrific Kids” as a member of Golden K Kiwanis, where he goes to area schools and talks with fifth grade students about random acts of kindness. He also works with Geneva Capital to run the annual Shark Tank event and prepare students for DECA competitions.
“He’s truly a gift to Alexandria,” said Mike Tripp of Geneva Capital.
Reflecting on his time as a DECA advisor and looking ahead to marking his ninth decade of life next year, Holm said he wanted to give back to the program that made his teaching career so fulfilling.
“I’d like to do something to help the students,” Holm said. “I made a donation to help DECA continue over the years.”