Cecil Y. Holland, Jr. began his remarkable trek through life on April 27, 1931 at the hospital in Billings, MT because the hospital in Hardin was not yet built. Jack, as he was widely known, spent the first eighteen years of his life in Big Horn County shooting things, riding things, raising things, and studying things. Jack graduated from Hardin High in 1949 as its valedictorian, football captain, two-time state champion point guard (feel free to google Cecil the Diesel), first chair coronet, student council president and saddle bronc champ. By the time Jack matriculated to Montana State College on a football scholarship he was grounded in his love of God, family, and country.
Jack earned a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering in 1954 and liked to say he could not remember if he graduated in 11 inches of snow on the 15th of June, or 15 inches of snow on the 11th. In either case he left Bozeman having played on some of the worst teams in Bobcat history, having made lifelong friends while at the SAE house, and having caught the fancy of a Pi Phi sweetheart.
Jack married Neva Gnose of Wise River, MT in Butte on the day after Christmas in 1955. Rather than getting married in a fever, theirs was a blizzard, and the next day they headed south to begin their life together as Jack reported to flight school with the USAF. Their first post was in California where their first son was born. The new family next moved to Seattle where Jack earned a master’s degree in Civil Engineering and their second son was born. Jack took this newfound knowledge to Korea and left his growing family behind in Montana with relatives. After a year in Korea, Jack’s next assignment was in Colorado Springs where he again wore his engineer hat helping to build NORAD headquarters at Cheyenne Mountain and where their third son was born.
In 1965 the family moved to Alabama for a year while Jack received more training and then it was back to Colorado Springs, but this time Jack wore his pilot’s hat. His pilot’s wings were again put into service as Jack was assigned to fly C-130 reconnaissance flights in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam war. The family lived in Okinawa during this three year stint, and it was there the family welcomed its final piece, a daughter at last.
Jack’s final posting with the Air Force was as the base engineer at Malmstrom in Great Falls. Jack retired in 1974 as a Lt. Colonel and the achievements in his military career included a Distinguished Flying Cross, eight Air Medals, and two Presidential Unit Citations.
Jack was not done serving humanity, however, as he became the Public Works Director in Great Falls for three years including a brief stint as the City Manager. He then took his engineering skills to the private sector for the next twenty years as operations engineer for Thomas, Dean & Hoskins.
Jack retired in 1998, but he didn’t slow down. His retirement activities included serving as treasurer of the Pachyderm Club, on the board of the Manchester Cemetery, as an elder at First Presbyterian, a Hospice volunteer, and helping with the Great Falls Beautification Committee. He was also able to travel, watch his grandchildren participate in activities, and provide end of life care to his brother-in-law and then his dear Neva.
Jack carried a razor-sharp wit his entire life and combined it with a caring soul. He could be hard at times but made peace with his deepest regrets. He was a fervent follower of the NY Yankees and a passionate reader of the Bible. He loved to be in the company of his friends from the singles group, the card playing group, the ancient pilots, and fortnightly. He rarely missed an opportunity to brag about his children, and they willingly return the favor.
In August, 2020 Jack was placed in Hospice care and his doctor indicated he would have no more than six months to live due to his severe COPD. Jack cheated life out of an extra four months, and his children were there at his side when his stubbornness finally succumbed to God’s will.
Jack was preceded in death by his parents, Cecil and Mildred, his wife Neva, and his friend Bev Knoll. He is survived by his brother Don (Gayle), his children Dan (Christine), Randy (Becky), Mike (Angie), and Susan (Chris.) Also surviving Jack are ten grandchildren (Katie, Dain, Hannah, Bethany, Michaela, Abbey, Rachel, Riley, Eric, and Truett), two great-grandchildren (Huey and Leah), and his dear friend Eileen Curdy.
The family is deeply grateful for the care Jack received from the Hospice staff, especially Amanda and Barb. And to say he was blessed by his personal caregivers would be an understatement. They not only made it possible for Jack to stay in his home, but he also made abiding friendships along the way. There will be a private graveside service this week followed by a Memorial service later this summer which will be announced when the date is determined. In the meantime Jack will be interred for eternity in the Manchester Cemetery alongside Neva where they invite you to spend a moment looking out across the prairie toward the Rocky Mountain front and hear this reminder from Joshua 1:9 to be strong and courageous as you, too, trek through life.
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