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In Memory of . . . William L. Holden (1931-2014)

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, September 3, 2014
The Rev. William L. Holden died on August 22, 2014 at the age of 83. William was born in Boston, MA on June 2, 1931 to William L. Holden Sr. and Gladys L. Holden. As a child, he was recognized by friends and teachers for his generous and unselfish outlook on helping others. He was also a voracious reader, a pleasure he enjoyed throughout his life. In his early teens he became an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. During his later teens and early twenties he served as a summer camp counselor then waterfront director for the YMCA's Camp Wiyaka in New Hampshire. During this time he was also active in leading church youth groups. He spent three summers working as waterfront director of Camp Joslin in Massachusetts. He attended Boston Public Schools and graduated from English High School in 1948. He then graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Youth Group and Recreational Leadership from Springfield College in 1954, and entered the United States Army that same year. He served active duty until his honorable discharge in 1957. He went on to graduate with a Master of Social Work from the University of Connecticut in 1959, and with a Bachelor of Divinity from Crane Theological School at Tufts University in 1967.

Rev. Holden served as youth minister to the Stoneham Unitarian Church, of Stoneham, MA, from 1959 to 1961; and Minister of Education to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, MA from 1962 to 1964. His extensive volunteer ministry included service as a volunteer hospital chaplain to Hennepin County Medical Center of Minneapolis, MN; volunteer police chaplain to the St. Paul, MN, Police Department; member of the Minnesota State Children’s Mental Health Advisory Committee; guest minister and consultant to countless Unitarian Universalist congregations; and co-founding of the Victim’s Intervention Project, a program out of the St. Paul Police Department that supports the families of homicide victims. He was ordained by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka, MN in 1980.

After serving the parish ministry, William worked as a clinical social worker at the Vacaville Psychiatric Facility in Sacramento, CA; superintendent of the Delaware Youth Authority in Dover, DE; superintendent of the County Home School in Minnetonka, MN; and administrator of the Hennepin County Corrections Department of Hennepin County, MN.

Rev. Holden was active within the denomination. He co-founded the Central Valley Area Council of the Pacific Central District (PCD) of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and served on the council from 1965 to 1967. He served as board member of the Pacific Central District; Chairman of the Research and Planning Commission of the Pacific Central District; member of the Unitarian Universalist Retired Ministers and Partners Association; member of the Harper’s Ferry Ministerial Study Group; member of the Delaware Valley Ministerial Group; member of the Prairie Star Ministerial Group; program chair of the Dover Delaware Unitarian Universalist Fellowship; Liberal Religious Youth advisor in Massachusetts; workshop leader at Camp UniStar; and co-founder of The North Area Unitarian Fellowship of Sacremento, CA (now Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento).

During the 1960 and 1970s, William and his first wife, Joan, were very active in the civil rights movement, the farm workers movement, the anti-war movement, and the struggle against The John Birch Society. William remained politically engaged throughout his life, and was a life-long member of the American Civil Liberties Union. He also held membership with Toastmasters; the National Association of Social Workers; the National Council on Crime and Delinquency; and the Academy of Certified Social Workers. He served as a delegate to district and state democratic conventions, and headed up United Way campaigns in Hennepin County, MN.

William’s ministry was greatly impacted upon his near death experience of waiting to receive a heart transplant in July of 1985. He co-founded the Second Chance for Life Foundation in 1988, an organization with a mission to support people who have had or who are waiting to receive a heart transplant. He often sermonized about his experience and mentored many transplantees. Additionally, William became an active supporter of many lay led congregations in the Prairie Star District (consolidated in 2013 with the Central, MidWest, and Heartland Districts to become the MidAmerica Region). He was in relationship with over twenty congregations, and led worship services, helped strengthen religious education programs through speaking and counseling, and mentored ministerial interns. He served congregations in Sioux City, MN, St. Cloud, MN and Racine, WI, among others.

William was an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Minnetonka, of Wayzata, MN for over thirty years, and at his death, he was also a member of the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, MN.

From childhood days in Boston, Bill's sister, Nancy, remembers observing her brother as he worked fastidiously, hours at a time, examining and studying (with a magnifying glass) special postage stamps. After careful scrutiny, he would carefully place those that qualified on just the right spot in his beautiful albums. She also remembers watching him build beautiful model airplanes with balsam wood, tissue paper, glue, and colorful paint. This resulted in dozens of colorful models hanging in flight, attached to the ceiling with fine thread.

Bill loved good theatre and fine music. He would often invite his sister to accompany him for an evening in Boston or a trip to Cape Cod for a magnificent concert or delightful theatre; this kindness and generosity influenced and enriched her entire life.

William is survived by his wife, Sondra Smalley; children, William Lynn (Karin Lauria), Barbara Lynn, Michele Wallace (Doug Root), Sarah Merwin (Kedrik), and Doug Smalley (Sara); grandchildren, Madeline, Chloe, Jack, Isaac, and Bennett; sister, Nancy Gear; nephews, Greg Ruetzler and Dean Ruetzler; cousin, Beaulah Welch; and best friend (and brother of the heart), Joe Keating.

A memorial service will be held at 2:00 P.M. on October 4th at the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, 900 Mt Curve Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55403. Rev. David Breeden will officiate.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Second Chance for Life Foundation ( or the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (

Notes of condolences may be sent to Bill Lynn, 12 Mountain Avenue, Marlborough, MA 01752; to Sondra Smalley, 5225 Grandview Square, #112, Edina, Minnesota 55436; and to Nancy Holden Gear, 10 Sebring Road, South Burlington, VT 05403.

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