A crowd of more than 300 co-workers, family, friends, and athletes gathered Sunday, January 30, on the Greenville University campus to celebrate the life of Dave Holden, a GU professor, administrator, and coach who died unexpectedly on January 17.
Holden, 60, was remembered as a man who encouraged students to work hard and pursue their dreams – both in the classroom and on the athletic field. He served as the University’s dean of the graduate and adult studies, adviser to presidents, and assistant track and field coach. He also was the founding coach for the cross country program at Greenville High School.
His wife, Teresa, has served as the dean of general education, and associate professor of history and political science. They have three children, Lindsey, Ashley, and David.
Sunday’s program at the Crum Recreation Center was emceed by the Rev. Ben Wayman, a GU professor of theology and a pastor at St. Paul’s Free Methodist Church in Greenville. He said that Holden frequently encouraged athletes to “get your reps in.” That, Wayman said, reflected Holden’s conviction that hard work always precedes success.
“Dave knew that lessons learned in sports can help us be successful in life,” Wayman added. “He taught us to work hard, find joy, and share it with those we love.”
Two of Holden’s former cross country runners at GHS, who later ran at GU – Jordie File and Collin Kessinger – shared the impact he had on their lives and their athletic achievements. As a high school freshman, File was cut from the volleyball team. Her mother told her she had to pick another sport, and she chose cross country.
“He always encouraged us,” she said. “No matter how fast you were, you were part of a family.”
File ultimately became Holden’s assistant coach at GHS. Kessinger, in his final year on the Panther track team, said Holden “is the reason I’m still running today.” He also spoke of Holden’s ability to keep sport in perspective. “If I won a race, coach would say, ‘Well, you ran fast and earned yourself some hardware.’”
Doug Faulkner, a fellow GU professor and coach, said Holden exemplified that “slow and steady wins the race.” He added: “He was a giver, someone who prioritized people over tasks. He wasn’t afraid to get down in the trenches to get things done.”
Also attending the celebration of life was a group of Holden’s teammates from his days as a lineman on the University of Southern California football team. They, too, praised his work ethic and his enduring friendship with teammates from that era of his life.
For several years, Holden volunteered his coaching services during the summer months at the East St. Louis Railers Track Club – the club where Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee got her start. Railers Coach Nino Fennoy attended Sunday’s service and said that Holden’s approach to track paralleled the club’s goals.
“We tell our athletes to choose the right path and don’t let anyone steal your dreams,” Fennoy said. “Sports are important, but education is transformative. Dave believed that, too.”
In Holden’s 27 years at Greenville University, his contributions were significant and far-reaching. He was a part of launching several initiatives and new programs. Yet, the speakers at Sunday’s celebration of life spoke of Dave the man, Dave the coach, and Dave the sports enthusiast. They spoke of his self-deprecating humor, his backhanded compliments, and his ability to encourage those around him.
“I think it was significant that so many communities showed up to celebrate Dave’s life,” Wayman said after the event. “There were Greenville community members, Greenville University members, folks connected to the high school, members of various churches, former colleagues, former teammates, former athletes he coached, and family members. They displayed Dave’s Christian vision of the world – that it’s all a gift. Where so many people draw lines in the sand to block others, Dave made friends with everyone, including players on opposing athletic teams.
“Dave saw sports as training for life in the kingdom of God,” Wayman continued. “And he lived his life in such a way that so many others wanted to join him in following Jesus. He was a faithful man who lived well and finished well.”
Following the program, participants were treated to a meal and invited to share stories about their friendship with Holden.