By Marty Keenan
Holt, 59, a longtime Venture Corporation employee, died March 16, 2020. Holt
was a lifetime friend of Marty Keenan.
When Bob Holt was as
young as 6 or 7, my Dad said: “That kid is the best natural athlete I ever
saw.” Bob was just better than everyone else.
He was fast, strong, coordinated. We rode bikes and played games in the neighborhood on Apache, but basketball became Bob’s favorite.
The oldest and coolest boy in the neighborhood, Alan Krier, taught Bob various basketball dribbling and passing tricks.
Alan’s basketball goal was above their garage, and Alan’s bedroom window was upstairs on the second floor above and behind the goal.
Alan Krier taught Bob to spin the ball, to put English on the ball, so it bounced off the asphalt shingles, and bounced into the basket, which was mostly not visible from behind.
Bob enjoyed rare hand-to-eye coordination. There was nothing he couldn’t do.
He could spin a basketball on his finger. He could juggle. He was a good artist. He painted Jayhawks on the walls of his basement. If you could draw “Spunky,” an adorable little dog, you could win a $795 art scholarship. Bob drew “Spunky,” but I don’t think he ever heard back.
Two memories stand out.
When I was in 9th grade at Harrison Junior High, Bob was an 8th grader when something special happened.
We had two junior highs and the annual Harrison-Roosevelt showdown at the city auditorium was always close.
But not the year Bob was leading the 8th grade Harrison Blue Demons. The headline in the December 20, 1974 Great Bend Tribune stated bluntly: “Holt, press, destroy Roosevelt.”
Bob scored 22 of Harrison’s 36 points.
My final text to Bob included that article. He loved it.
When Bob got to Great Bend High, one game stood out, sort of like the Harrison-Roosevelt game. I spent 10 hours trying to find an article, wanting to share it with Bob, but I ran out of time.
What I remember for sure is that Bob was an underclassman when the rival McPherson Bullpups came to town. We were down several points with maybe a minute to go. It was right before Christmas, just like when he destroyed Roosevelt.
McPherson was winning, and the Black Panther fans were resigned to losing another game to the Bullpups. Bob’s performance was unremarkable, and one of Bob’s favorite teachers, Homer Kruckenberg, diagnosed the problem— “Those seniors weren’t giving Holt the ball.”
But when the chips were down, they gave him the ball. He made a couple of clutch shots to win the game. The winning shot was one where Bob drove the baseline and took an astonishing 8-foot shot. Bob was actually positioned behind the backboard on his line of sight.
It’s the kind of shot that normally hits the side of the backboard. But Bob had the guts of a burglar. His shot hit nothing but the dry goods.
I was sitting in the bleachers on that end of the gym, and I saw it up close. Alan Krier would have been proud of his child prodigy.
That night, Homer rushed the court when the final buzzer sounded.
Homer instantly tagged the sweat-drenched hero with the moniker: “Jumpin’ Joltin’ Boltin’ Holt.”
Bob used to recall: “He introduced me to his brother, Larry Kruckenberg, right there on the court.”
Homer later shortened Holt’s nickname to “Jump.” Homer had nicknames for everyone.
I was going to call Mr. Kruckenberg, but I was too sad to say the words— “Jump died last night.”
I just couldn’t do it.
Bob was a storyteller who enjoyed reliving the fun times.
His uncanny ability to mimic our gym teacher at Harrison (Mr. Staehr) was one of the funniest things I ever saw.
The best gift Bob ever gave me was when he told my sons stories about me.
When he was playing softball for Keenan Law Firm, he told my sons stories about antics at St. Patrick’s grade school.
I never would have told them these things, but he did. And Jeff and Tyler still talk about it.
When you had an adventure with Bob, it was like having the adventure many times, because he would repeat the story dozens of times through the years.
When he retold the story, he never said: “Remember that time?” Instead, he would just mention a major fact in the story, such as “Marty…the TRASH CAN at Hoisington” or “Marty… on the intercom system. MR. BRADY…” He would laugh so hard the tears flowed. I knew each story by this shorthand method.
He was always in such good spirits. He was always up for a good time. He was optimistic. He was always so much fun to be around.
He never dreamed his life would be cut short, but he lived like he knew. He worked hard and played hard.
And at crunch time, when you really needed a friend, he was there 100%. I can’t say this strongly enough, but when my mom died, or when our house got clipped by a micro-tornado, or when I had a difficult personal trial, Bob showed up to help and said the right thing. Sometimes it was weird the way he knew when you were suffering; he just seemed to appear.
The Wizard of Oz said our hearts are not measured by how much we love but by how much others love us.
If that’s the case, Bob’s heart was giant.
Everybody loved the guy. He collected friends like raking leaves in the Fall. His friends were legion.
Bob didn’t like talking on the phone. I don’t remember getting a single email. He would just drop in and visit a friend. He was Old School like that. It was always a pleasant surprise.
My heart is broken for Bob Holt’s wife, Tammy, his sons, Allan, Brett and Brad, for his mother, Charlette, and his siblings, John, Mary, Tom and Beth. Their pain is unquenchable.
I lived in the DU house with Bob at KU for three years, and at KU the girls were just wild for him.
But everyone knew he would marry the girl next door—Tammy Spray. When she moved to Great Bend in 1973, the guys just adored her.
But Bob always got the girl.
Like his mom and dad at Fowler High, they were high school sweethearts at Great Bend High.
In both cases, the sports star married the cheerleader.
He was so proud of his beautiful wife, and his handsome and athletic sons. He talked about them constantly. He played no favorites.
But I distinctly remember a football game at Wichita Southeast. I remembered Southeast to be a football powerhouse, the team that knocked Great Bend’s spectacular 1979 team out of the state championship game.
And during the first half, one of his sons—I don't remember which one—pulled a Bob Holt Roosevelt-McPherson thingie. He scored three touchdowns in a few minutes. Two blocked punts for touchdowns, then he caught a touchdown pass.
All three of his boys had that Bob Holt competitive greatness. He loved to talk about how each of his sons had their Roosevelt-McPherson moments. He puffed up like a blowfish when talking about Tammy and the boys.
Cancer picked a tough opponent when it picked “Jumpin’ Joltin’, Boltin’ Holt.”
As the poet said: “Do not go gentle into that good night, but rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”
Like he did in the Harrison-Roosevelt game, and in the McPherson game, Bob pulled out all the stops to beat cancer.
But he had to win every day, and cancer only needed to win one day.
It was last night, I hear. Death, be not proud.