Kermit Holmgren, 1906 — 2006
Not long ago I took my re-assignment as the top (or maybe the bottom) slice in the generational sandwich of our family. My father, Kermit Holmgren, died nearly four months past 100 years. My memories of the years of his life are more of the encyclopedic than the “sound bite” variety, such that I hardly know where to begin!
My earliest memories go back to my pre-school years when my great delight was to join my dad in the evening on the sofa when the dishes were washed and put away. I would climb into his lap and beg for stories of the “olden days.” I loved hearing about his childhood, his siblings, his horses, his friends, school days, his beloved Uncle Carl, and other family members. I had many favorites that I would request again and again.
I often asked to hear the stories about the details of his life as it was affected by his congenital cleft lip and palate. He told of children asking how he hurt his lip, and how he had difficulty speaking understandably. His name “Kermit” came out sounding like “Herman,” and he said he often wished for another name that would be easier to say. I think that is why he rather enjoyed the dawning of the age of Kermit the Frog—all of a sudden the name sounded familiar to everyone!
Most of all I was intrigued by knowing someone who had a problem easily discernible by both sight and sound, and yet he seemed to just accept the problem as it was and move on with life. I felt incredibly sorry for him as a child, but I could tell he did not share the fantasy of lament I built in my mind over his problem. In fact, years later I learned through his writings, that he felt God had allowed him to become “almost perfect.” He understood the rather poorly-done surgical repair of his lip and palate at the age of 11 to be the answer to his years-long prayers.
After my mother died my father spent the long, lonely evenings typing these stories, and eventually filling numerous volumes of three-ring notebooks with his memories. At the age of eighty-five he began writing a series of stories about his memories of life shared with his younger brother, who died in a farm accident at the age of 30. He mailed these letters to the children of his brother. He recorded events as he recalled them over time, and ended up with more than 100 vignettes fleshing out the “dad” his brother’s children never knew. He created smaller similar collections of others in the family, and of friends in the community, to bring to life, for the young children they had left behind, those who had died. As a consequence we are blessed to have a rich legacy of personal history recorded by my father in his unique, sometimes humorous, but always poignant style.
Woven into the very fabric of all his stories, whether oral or written, is a confident, unshakable belief that Almighty God is the Author of life and the Designer of all its circumstances. He rarely missed an opportunity to share his faith. He took God at His Word, and he wanted his word with God to be authentic. He and his second wife committed to writing a series of six letters to each of their 20 grandchildren, expressing their faith in God and taking on the responsibility of making clear the way of salvation. They wanted to be blameless before the Lord in telling the Good News, and not to be remiss in sharing their witness. My dad treasured the letters they received in reply from the grandchildren telling of their journeys of faith.
The hallmark of my father’s life would be true humility. He sincerely lived the Scriptural admonition to “never think of himself more highly than he ought” (Romans 12:3). He lived a simple life honestly before the Lord without fanfare or personal proclamations. All he did and said stands up to the truth of Jeremiah 9:23-24:
“This is what the Lord says:
‘Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight,’
declares the Lord.”
As far as I know, never for a moment did my dad waver in his commitment to God. I have often been reminded of my father while reading in the book of Joshua about Caleb who was strong and vigorous into his advanced years. Caleb was also known for the fact that he “followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” Dad worked long days in heavy manual labor as a blacksmith. He thus gained, and retained considerable physical strength over the long years of his life. More than that, he attended conscientiously to following the Lord with all his might his entire life.
His spiritual strength was surely gained in his daily Bible reading. In the last year of his life he committed, as in the 50 or 60 prior years, to read the Bible through “from beginning to end in less than a year.” His journal entry three months later was that he had completed the last chapter of Revelation that day, but he added that he “did not recommend reading the Bible so fast...far better to read it slower and be more alert and rested so that one may make better use of the thoughts by understanding its message.”
As his life was drawing to a close, some looked at him and thought he was “suffering,” but he triumphantly declared that he was “rejoicing because I know I will soon be in the presence of my Savior!”
It was my joy to have my face pressed up against his as my tears streamed down both our faces while he prayed a beautiful prayer of blessing on each of his family members. We said our last farewell with my dad reminding me that never again will we need to say “good bye”—and I responded, “No, never, and not even ‘good night.’”