MINNEOTA -- Southwestern Minnesota lost one of its most prominent voices in the death Wednesday of author Bill Holm, say writers and friends who are mourning his loss.
Holm, 65, died Wed-nesday at the Avera Heart Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D., ac-cording to an announcement by the Rehkamp-Horvath Funeral Directors of Minneota.
"He was a gathering point for the region to think about itself,'' said Joe Amato of Marshall, an author and former colleague of Holm's at Southwest Minnesota State University, Marshall. Holm was a professor in the English department for 27 years before retiring one year ago.
Holm grew up on a farm outside of Minneota, where his passion for literature and music showed itself at a young age. "He had probably read all of Shakespeare's works before he went to school,'' said Walt Gislason of Willmar, Holm's cousin.
Holm gained widespread acclaim for his poetry and books, among them being "Boxelder Bug Variations,'' (1985) "The Dead Get By With Everything,'' (1990), "Coming Home Crazy" (2000), and "The Heart Can Be Filled Anywhere on Earth'' (1996).
Holm's contributions were recognized this past year when the McKnight Foundation awarded him its prestigious Distinguished Artist Award, which carries a $50,000 stipend.
Holm has always remained "grounded'' in rural ways, no matter the fame or attention he has won, according to Litchfield author Nancy Paddock.
"I always said he had a prairie's eye,'' said Paddock. She and her husband, poet and author Joe Paddock, traveled with Holm throughout the region in the late 1970's reading poetry.
Holm's appreciation for a rural sense of place put his name often in the company of late authors including Frederick Manfred, Paul Gruchow, and Carol Bly.
The large-framed (6'5'' and more than 300 pounds) Holm was also known for his love of life, his defiance of doctors orders against smoking and drinking, and his gregarious nature.
Holm often entertained in the region, playing piano and reading his works.
"People around him kind of absorbed life from him,'' said Joe Paddock.
The author traveled widely, and wrote works on his experiences in places as desperate as China, Madasgascar and his summer home of recent years, his family's native Iceland. The more he traveled, the more he came to appreciate what he called the "wisdom'' of his home in Minneota, Holm wrote.
In recent years, he spent part of his winters in Arizona, summers in Iceland, and fall and spring at his home in Minneota. Although he left his home in Minneota for months at a time, he never locked its doors, said Walt and Raenae Gislason.
Walt Gislason said Holm could have enjoyed commercial success by accepting offers from large publishing houses, but remained faithful to the regional presses that supported him at his start.
Holm's first wife was from the Willmar area, and he maintained a life-long friendship with his cousin and was a frequent visitor to this area, said Gislason.
While his works captured attention and praise from well beyond the state, it's Southwest Minnesota that will feel his loss the most, said Florence Dacey, an author and poet in Cottonwood. "He was such a champion for rural writers and the rural perspective and our rural values out here,'' said Dacey.
"He leaves just a huge hole for so many people,'' said Joe Paddock.