Up on the Mountain

by Bob Bach

Nestled in the beautiful Santa Cruz mountains, a few miles from shimmering Monterey Bay and the sands of the Pacific Ocean, lies Mission Springs Conference Center. Surrounded by coastal redwoods and towering oaks, Mission Springs has served as a summer camp for family and youth, and a year-round retreat center for churches and other groups since 1926. Originally it was a 25-acre ranch, but the conference grounds now cover more than 300 acres, and sprinkled throughout the property are a good number of summer cabins and permanent residences.

Not only is Mission Springs a place for spiritual renewal, it is also a perfect setting for romance, especially if you take a walk around the mountain. The walk usually starts at the coffee shop, the central milling-around place strategically located at the entrance of the grounds. Throughout the day, and especially after evening activities, the coffee shop is the spot to hook up with a special "around the mountain" partner.

The walk starts out gently as it goes past the Stevenson cabin, the playground, and Redwood Lodge. Then it begins to ascend gradually up to Cathedral Grove. There the road takes a sharp, steep right-hand turn and then becomes narrow and curvy. Most of the walk, if it is at night, is done in absolute pitch dark. By the time you get to the old water tanks, you should be holding hands because if you slip off the road from there on down, you will roll all the way to the bottom. No one really gives much thought to whether or not you are holding hands as a means of survival or interest—it just feels good to have a hand entwined with yours. If by chance, you aren't holding hands after you reached the tanks, you can be sure that this will probably be the last walk you would have with the one you were with.

In the summer of 1960, a young girl named Kathy Bowman took that walk with a tall adolescent named Mike Holmgren. Both of their families had summer places at Mission Springs and they spent a lot of time there. Kathy was from San Jose, and Mike from San Francisco.

Both were deeply rooted in the Covenant church. Kathy's mom, Jane, grew up in Chicago in the North Park neighborhood. Her childhood home on Kimball Avenue is just a few blocks away from where Kathy's and Mike's daughters now live. Jenny, the North Park University Director of Communication, and Calla, a medical doctor, live on Spaulding Avenue with their families. Emily, an elementary school teacher and seminary wife, lives on Christiana Avenue, and Gretchen, student body president of North Park, lives close by on campus. Kathy's father, Arthur Bowman number two, was the son of Arthur Bowman number one, pastor at North Park Covenant Church. Arthur Bowman, number three, is an ordained pastor and editorial staff member of Pietisten. Mike's parents, Lincoln and Barbara Holmgren raised Mike above a Swedish bakery owned by Lincoln's father, and the entire three generation Holmgren family was active in the San Francisco Covenant Church.

Word is that Kathy's hand was smothered by Mike's big paw long before they got to the water tanks. In any event, their walks became more and more frequent, and they soon became an inseparable couple throughout their teen years.

Their paths took different directions when Kathy graduated from Camden High in San Jose, and Mike from San Francisco's Lincoln High. Kathy headed off to North Park to study nursing, and Mike went south to University of Southern California (USC) to join the Trojan football team. Summers provided rendezvous at Mission Springs and letter writing began to intensify during the later college years. Kathy graduated from North Park in 1969 and returned home to San Jose where she worked as a nurse and saved up enough money to support a missionary endeavor to Congo. She spent a year in Africa working alongside Dr. Titus Johnson, Dr. Teddy Johnson, and nurse Jody LeVahn. She travelled in the bush going from village to village to give physicals and to administer injections, and she worked in the missionary hospital helping with surgery.

In the meantime, Mike was winding up his USC collegiate career and after a brief stint with a couple of pro football teams, he set his sights on becoming a high school teacher and coach. When Kathy returned from the Congo, Mike met her at the airport. Kathy was suffering from a major tooth infection and her face was badly swollen. " When I saw her," her mother Jane remembers, "I said to myself, 'If Mike can still love her after seeing how she looks, that relationship is going to make it.'" Kathy returned with a talented parrot named Kukulu who had a unique command of the human language and, among other things, learned the USC fight song.

Mike and Kathy were married on June 5, 1971 at Cathedral Grove, the peaceful outdoor worship spot at Mission Springs where many significant life decisions are made. The reception was held farther up the mountain at Frontier Ranch, the outdoor youth camping spot.

Following their marriage, Kathy and Mike settled into a little place in San Francisco where Kathy worked as a nurse and Mike finished a year of study to earn his teaching credential. Mike's first job was at his alma mater, Lincoln High. After a brief stint there, he joined the staff at Sacred Heart, a parochial school in the city where he coached football, taught mechanical drawing, economics, history, and physical education. By now the twins, Calla and Jenny had been born, and Kathy had become a full-time mom. But with Mike's salary of $600 a month, it was necessary for her to put in an occasional evening with a nursing registry.

A few years later, the family moved to San Jose where Mike taught history and coached at Oak Grove High School. Two more daughters, Emily and Gretchen, were born to Kathy and Mike while in San Jose. In 1981, he joined the football staff at San Francisco State. Although San Francisco State was not a major football power, the long time head coach, Vic Rowan, was known as the dean of collegiate football coaches and he was a major influence in the American Football Coaches Association. Rowan's influence and Mike's terrific coaching ability led to the opportunity as quarterback coach at Brigham Young University.

Located in Provo, Utah, the BYU campus lies 45 miles south of Salt Lake City. "We prayed about it," Kathy remembers, "and we both felt that the Lord had some reason in mind for us to go there." In Utah, Kathy earned her Master's degree in oncology nursing and served in a hospice. At Brigham Young, Mike not only coached some of the country's finest quarterbacks, he also led the Christian club on campus. As quarterback coach, Mike had a major role in the success of BYU's football program. The Cougars were one of the top teams in the country during Mike's tenure and they won the national championship in 1984.

The San Francisco 49ers hired Mike as quarterback coach in 1986. For the next six years the 49ers dominated the National Football League and won back-to-back Super Bowls. Mike was promoted to offensive coordinator and engineered the team's potent offense.

In 1992, the Green Bay Packers made Mike their head football coach. As he built the Packers into the top team in the NFL and Super Bowl champs, Kathy plunged into service work. She also earned her second Master's degree, this one in social work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She served as a medical-social worker in the oncology unit at St. Vincent's Hospital and once a week could be found at Paul's Pantry, a service organization that distributes food to people in the area who are in poverty and need. Food came from overstocks from distributors, leftovers from restaurants, dented cans, and outdated but edible products. The organization served about 150 households a day and distributed nearly three million pounds of food a year. During that time, she was also appointed to the Board of Directors of North Park, a position she still holds.

After several seasons with the Green Bay Packers, including two Super Bowl appearances and one Super Bowl Championship, Mike became Vice President, General Manager, and Head Coach of the Seattle Seahawks. While he is methodically putting the pieces into place to bring the Seahawks into top contention, Kathy is once again full bore into serving the needs of others. "My mom is the most generous person I know," says daughter Jenny. "If she had her way, she would give all of her money away. She is very down to earth, preferring to serve others rather than spend time living in luxury."

Currently, Kathy is involved with the Seattle area Salvation Army and serves as Parish Nurse at Mercer Island Covenant Church. In this role, she not only puts into practice the knowledge and skills of health care, she also provides this care in a pastoral function. The role of the Parish Nurse is to serve as a counselor and practitioner. The counseling focuses on the importance of health, healing, and spirituality, and the practitioner part includes visitation, helping people get to medical appointments, monitoring blood pressure and inoculations, and even doing some shopping for those who are unable to get out and about.

However, her top priority has always been her influence with her own family. "One of my most memorable moments with my mom," recalls daughter Emily, "was when I was in college. I called home my freshman year from Gordon College and said I was miserable and needed to transfer. Mom said 'No!' She told me I needed to stick it out because I was there for a reason and I needed to see it through. In retrospect, it was the best thing she could have done. She knew what was best for me." Youngest daughter, Gretchen, also remembers a special time with her mom that ironically enough centered around a walk. "Mom and I have taken a lot of trips together, just the two of us, so I have appreciated the conversations we have had during those trips. When I was a freshman in high school, we went to Florence, Italy. We just walked around the city. Those conversations forced me to think about a lot of things that I have now accepted as truths. I really like that."

This saga began with the walk around the mountain at Mission Springs. Mike and Kathy return to the mountain each summer to their family cabin on the hill which they purchased in 1989. They can go out their front door, cross the narrow road, descend on some hand hewn steps and slip into Cathedral Grove—still a place of quiet worship. And they can go out back and sit on the deck shaded by trees and find solace and renewal. They have lived in several places throughout the country on their journey, but the house up on the mountain at Mission Springs remains deras hem—their home.

Bob Bach, from Angels Camp, California, is Pietisten’s roving reporter

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