The Soul of the Holt School

Though not related to the school’s namesake, Connie Holt helped define its spirit for three decades.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

It seemed like a perfect fit, right from the start. Same name. Same mission.

For 30 years, Connie Holt ’88 ’00MA helped students find their way at the Hamilton Holt School. She soothed their fears about being non-traditional students and urged them on to success in their evening and weekend classes.

In between her administrative duties that ranged from the registrar’s office to director of student services, she watched out for those in need, helped some students secure basic necessities, assisted in stopping a wrongful deportation case involving the husband of a Holt student, and still found time to play piano with the Black Student Union’s gospel choir.

“She is the real deal,” says Sharon Lusk, assistant dean of the Hamilton Holt School. “I often refer to her as the soul of the Holt School.”

Hamilton Holt, for whom the school is named, was the eighth president of Rollins and something of a national figure in 1930s and 1940s, but Connie Holt, in her own quiet way, is leaving just as lasting a legacy with coworkers and students.

Friends and colleagues describe her as embarrassed by praise and not one to dwell on her own family’s struggles. One son died of sickle cell anemia at 23. A daughter also struggles with the effects of the disease and has moved back home so that Holt and her husband, who is a Methodist minister, can help raise the children.

(Photo by Scott Cook) (Photo by Scott Cook)

“Connie is the most amazing person I think I’ve ever known,” says Teresa Cole, an academic advisor in the Holt School. “I’ve worked with her and for her for 20 years. She’s always gone over and above for anyone in need. … She taught Sunday school, took in foster children, and cooks most of the meals for an elderly lady in her church.”

And that’s just the short list. “When students were in any kind of crisis from homelessness to an emotional breakdown, Connie was always there for them,” Cole says. “She knew how to help them while in crisis and how to get them where they needed to be to get help.”

For her part, Holt says she just loves seeing others making progress.

“This is like a redemption center,” Holt says. “I really enjoyed watching [students] coming in terrified and unsure, but also knowing they would leave confident and competent. It gives you goose bumps to see it.”

In 2007, the Orlando Sentinel profiled Jesenia Colondres Brown ’07, a graduating Rollins student who triumphed over personal struggles and credited Holt with helping her reach her goal. “It was more her than anything,” she told the newspaper. “[Her] spunk, energy, and determination. That and all that she’s overcome—it’s the most marvelous thing about her.” Today, Brown administers a law firm’s pro bono and community service practice in the New York City area.

“Connie usually came in early, left late, and came in on Saturdays,” Cole says. “She not only was the director of student services, she advised students. She knew what to do and where to find help for students in crisis … She did all of this on top of working about 50 to 60 hours at Holt.”

Lusk summed up her experience with Holt this way: “There are few people that I respect as much as Connie Holt. She has been an advocate and champion for our students, a servant leader for her staff and colleagues, an adviser to the administration offering years of experience and expertise, and a great friend to me.”

Holt says she’ll miss the daily interaction with students and staff she’s come to regard as family. But if at the start of the fall semester, she could stand on the steps of the Hamilton Holt School and greet those who were arriving anxious, uncertain, and fearful, she’d tell them they came to the right place. Her welcoming pep talk at the schoolhouse door would be simple and comforting:

“You’re in good hands,” she says in a warm confident tone. “We’ll make sure you connect to the resources and people who will help you. There is nothing that we want more than your success.”

Indeed, it was on hectic days like those at the start of each semester that new students and visitors would ask Holt almost hourly if she was related to the man whose name they saw on the building. Usually, she’d just laugh and say, “I wish.”

And, who knows, maybe that other Holt would, too.