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Humble man left big mark: Holdman was quiet but powerful influence on area nonprofits

Jim Holdman

A Grand Forks man regarded as a mentor, a friend and a humble influence behind many local and regional philanthropic projects died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday night.

Jim Holdman was 67 and was diagnosed with the disease only about three weeks ago. Although his battle with cancer was short, it was difficult, with the cancer having spread through his liver, lungs and bones by the time it was discovered.

“It was everywhere,” said his son, Scott Holdman. “It was a shocker.”

But even in his last days, Jim Holdman showed his well-known warmth and kindness to his visitors and the nurses who tended to him in the hospital, his son said.

That kindness, matched with a vast knowledge of fundraising and a make-it-happen attitude, is what Jim Holdman brought to many projects, including Choice Health and Fitness, the CanadInn in Grand Forks and Giving Hearts Day.

“He was just this mentor in the area of philanthropy,” said John Staley, who was Grand Forks Park District director while Choice Health was being conceptualized and built. “Jim helped in a very basic way. … He didn’t talk about it, he just lived it.”


Holdman was also an influence behind the fundraising tactics of several Grand Forks organizations, including the Northlands Rescue Mission, the Community Foundation and the United Way of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Staley said.

And Holdman had a strong partnership with the Dakota Medical Foundation and Impact Foundation, and he was a leading strategist behind the annual fundraiser Giving Hearts Day, said Scott Holdman, who worked with his father coaching nonprofits through their company, FundingLogic.

Holdman’s fundraising knowledge came from a variety of life experiences, his son said, ranging from moving around as the son of an evangelist minister, to serving on the Minot City Council, to traveling around the U.S. to work with nonprofits, before moving to Grand Forks in 1995.

“All of that makes for a really unique individual,” Scott Holdman said.

Specifically, Jim Holdman was humble, his son said. “He learned not to take credit.”

‘A good friend’

Holdman was not only a professional mentor to many, but he was also regarded as a good friend.

Both Staley and Mike Jacobs, former publisher of the Herald, said they had coffee or lunch with Holdman almost every week. “I considered (Holdman) to be a thoughtful, broadminded and committed person,” Jacobs said. “I don’t think he was conscious of it — but he was a wise mentor, and a good friend.”

Those close to Holdman were aware of his religious devotion, they said.

“He helped me to examine my own beliefs,” Jacobs said, later adding, “He was a kind of special, one-of-a-kind friend.”

The day Holdman died, a letter about him, “the unsung hero of Grand Forks,” was printed in the Herald, written by Staley.

“He did get to read the letter,” Staley said. And several members of the Grand Forks nonprofit community voiced their agreement with Staley’s sentiment:

“As a result of Holdman’s contributions, thousands upon thousands of residents will lead healthier and happier lives.”

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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