Remembering Mary Holst: a special life, a special woman

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Brigantine lost a remarkable individual Nov. 29 when Mary Holst passed away at home at the age of 102. The Holst family had a great impact on the lives of local youths and helped create the social structure of the island.

“Mary Holst was a gracious, strong, and generous woman,” said Mayor Philip Guenther. “She provided generations of young people in Brigantine with the opportunity to play basketball on courts that she constructed adjacent to her home. Holst’s court was a favorite meeting place for most of the youth growing up in Brigantine from the 1950s to the 1990s. I remember only two rules associated with the use of Mary’s courts: no cursing, and you had to turn the lights out when you were finished playing.

“Mary obviously knew that young people needed a safe and structured recreational setting and she made the financial and personal commitment to the youth of Brigantine to make it happen,” Guenther said. “Mary’s lifelong dedication to helping her community is legendary, as she was an active member of numerous charitable organizations, making her life an inspiration for everyone who had the pleasure of knowing this remarkable woman.”

“I grew up in the Inlet section (of Atlantic City),” said Jim Mogan, CER director and basketball guru. “I remember coming to the Holst family basketball courts when I was 14 or 15 years old. I would ride a bike or hitchhike in order to play basketball at night at the Holst courts. The Holsts were always gracious and welcoming to all the players.”

Mogan well remembers the two rules Mayor Guenther previously mentioned, but added that no coats were permitted on the fence.

“It was a different time, and the Holsts never locked their kitchen door. We could always go in and get a drink of water,” Mogan said.

Betsy Rogge was a close friend of Mary Holst, and remembers when Wally and Mary moved to the island in 1939. During World War II, Brigantine residents walked the beaches looking for submarines. The U.S. Navy took over the Brigantine hotel, and Mary was one of the hostesses on the island who helped entertain the Navy personnel. Then in 1944, the Brigantine Bridge was lost in the storm and the Navy had a ferry that took people on and off the island. Mary would go to a hospital in Atlantic City, where she was one of the Red Cross volunteers known as “Gray Ladies,” assisting where she could.

Mary was always active and played bridge up to four days before she passed. She was known for her skiing, and she and her husband helped develop a local skiing fraternity up in Rutland, Vt.

“I remembered sharing Mary’s 85th birthday with her skiing,” said Rogge. “She and Wally started this group that built cabins up at Pico. Their place was called Holst Hall. She also canoed, rafted and we even started ballooning up in Rhinebeck, N.Y.”

Mary was a social whirlwind – “a very generous hostess, very funny,” remembers Rogge, who once saw Holst stage two parties in one day.

Mary was a charter member of the Charity League and started the Children’s Foundation, which is still helping children today.

Everyone this reporter talked to remembers Mary Holst as a strong woman who loved life and lived it with passion. That strength was severely tested when she lost her husband, her son Russell, and her sister Happy in a short period of time – the son and sister as a result of a tragic incident.

Mary Holst, 1910-2012, will be remembered for a life well lived – a life spent helping others.

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