By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
For decades, it appeared there was no greater supporter of Joplin athletics than Jack Holden.
“He would come to all of our home games and was considered by many, many people to be Joplin’s No. 1 fan,” said Jeff Starkweather, a former Joplin High School basketball and golf coach. “What a legend for the Joplin School District he is.”
Holden, a lifelong Joplin resident, died Wednesday at his home at age 90. He was remembered Thursday by those who knew him as dedicated to his community — and especially devoted to the Joplin Eagles.
Holden graduated in 1939 from Joplin High School and attended Joplin Junior College before receiving degrees from Pittsburg (Kan.) State University. He served with the Army Signal Corps during World War II and the Korean War.
He taught for 30 years in the social studies department at Joplin High School — where he sponsored the student council, the senior class and the Top Hatters girls drum and bugle corps — before his retirement in 1985. He also was the field announcer for football and the scorekeeper for basketball for three decades. The Jack Holden Sports Award for Academic Excellence was created in 1989 by the Joplin High School Athletic Booster Club; it is given as a $750 scholarship each year to two high school seniors.
Starkweather, now the Joplin School District’s athletic director, said he and Holden “go quite a ways back.” Starkweather was one of Holden’s geography students at Joplin Parkwood High School in the early 1980s. When Starkweather returned to the district as a teacher and coach, Holden was retired but still attended all the home games, he said.
“In the old Kaminsky Gymnasium (at the high school), he would come in and would sit on the steps and watch the game from there, go about halfway up the steps and watch the game,” Starkweather said. “I don’t think there’s any question he was the Joplin Eagles’ No. 1 fan. Obviously his devotion, the fact that he was at every game, unless he was in bad health or something like that, he was there, and he cared about the Eagles.”
In the community, Holden was involved with the American Legion and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. He also was a history buff, chronicling the stories of the American Legion and the Joplin School District during his retirement.
As part of his research on Joplin schools, Holden combed through minutes from Board of Education meetings dating to 1890, said high school Principal Kerry Sachetta, who has digital copies of much of that work.
“Essentially, Jack’s work and his interest through historical documents is unparalleled, at least as far as our district is concerned,” he said. “There’s no question that his impact and how we depict the history of Joplin schools in our new high school will have a big influence from Jack Holden.”
Brad Belk, executive director of the Joplin Museum Complex, also praised Holden for his “time-consuming, tedious work” in writing the school district’s history. He said Holden practiced what he preached.
“It is interesting to note that (for) many years, Jack Holden taught civics at Joplin High School,” Belk said. “As a former student of his, I found out later that Jack not only taught the course, but he epitomized what a good citizen was. There was no better citizen to emulate than Jack.”
Hall of Fame
JACK HOLDEN was inducted in 2006 into the Sports Hall of Fame, managed by the Joplin Sports Authority. “He was inducted because of his longevity to sports in Joplin,” said Jim Frazier, a member of the advisory board. “He was a true sports fan and supportive of all the programs.”