96 years young: Vern Holmquist, Our Town’s Ol’ Curmudgeon, shares his secrets to life

October 2017 Posted in Community, People

By Nancy Jennings

Vern Holmquist loves to dance. Never mind that the voice of Our Town’s “The Ol’ Curmudgeon” column turned 96 years young in May. One recent column “Dancing…together” (May 1 edition), proved he could “cut a rug” like no other.

How the Silverton resident secured his own newspaper column 13 years ago is quite a story. A very serendipitous one.

What began years earlier with letters to the editor venting his dislike for a past U.S. President through the local weekly, turned into a writing gig. His thoughtful and prolific outpourings got the attention of Publisher Paula Mabry and her staff.

“It became a weekly thing. They’d ask ‘what do you have for us this week?’” he recalled, smiling.

When Our Town launched, Mabry decided it was time to offer him the opportunity to write his own column. He wasn’t sure if he should accept at first since he hadn’t ever had an article published. “I asked her ‘what will I write about?’ She said ‘Any darn thing you want to.’”

Mabry found a treasured friend in The Ol’ Curmudgeon. “Vern’s attitude and approach to life is a gift he shares. He is interested and open. I think those who know him aspire to those qualities when they near the century mark,” she said.

Born in Sharon, N.D., Vern’s life path has led him through Montana, Nevada, California and now Oregon

He met his first wife in Livingston, Mont. Her father owned a bar there and one day she asked him to dance — and they quickly began dating. They were married for 14 years and had three children. Her family was in the Arabian horse breeding business. The young couple had the distinction of selling one of their Arabian colts to Gene Autry, the famous movie star and “singing cowboy” of the 1930s and 1940s. The colt’s name was “Borkan,” which means “volcano” in Arabic.

Other professions included jewelry store watchmaker, appliance salesman, furniture store manager and pipe/tobacco store owner.

Married for 47 years to his second wife, Velva, they raised his three children from his first marriage and her daughter — and had eight grandchildren. He now has one great-grandchild.

Holmquist moved from Mount Angel to Silverton in 2007, not long after Velva’s passing that year. “I was a Protestant in a Catholic town – and a Liberal in a Conservative town,” he said. He loved Silverton’s artistic community. “This town is full of talent. There’s a lot of musicians, artists and writers. That was of interest,” he said.

Vern has an artistic flair of his own. He has pieced together an elaborate tapestry of photos, which adorns a wall in his home. Included in the montage of family and friends made over the years is a photo of well-known Pastor Cecil Williams, of Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, Calif.  Vern recalls seeing Angela Davis, the radical political activist of the 1970s, sitting in the pews.

He served in WWII as a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Force. “I was in the Norden bombsite department, which enabled daylight bombing. I instructed the pilots on how to do an accurate bomb run,” he said.

“I’m very patriotic. My eyes cloud up every time I see our flag go by in a parade. We didn’t talk much about what we did because it was all in a day’s work. We didn’t consider ourselves ‘heroes,’” he said.

However, in 1938, Vern did something which made him a “hero” of sorts in the eyes of local mothers in a dance class. While teaching junior high school children some dance moves in a church basement in Bozeman, Mont., he incorporated “a swing step that took a little extra energy, and the mothers saw this. They thought it was a great way to keep in shape. They formed a club and I became their instructor of ‘jazzercise.’ The word wasn’t even invented yet,” he joked.

What’s his secret to starting a good day?

“In the morning, I take a half a glass of milk, some Metamucil, a half a banana and every vitamin known to man. I stick it in a blender and drink it. That’s my breakfast.”

His recipe for longevity has only one ingredient: “My love of life is what keeps me going,” he said.

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