You may know her as a pie making, Sunday School teaching, VBS and Christmas Pageant Queen, but there is more to Holly Bowen-Bailey than what meets the eye. For example, did you know she and Doug lived in Fairbanks, Alaska…yes, that’s Alaska, the Last Frontier, Land of the Midnight Sun, and home of grizzly bears.
Or that Holly once swam from Bayfield to Madeline Island? Yes, Holly Bowen-Bailey is a force to be reckoned with.
Holly grew up in the Twin Cities: first in Minneapolis, then Wayzata, and finally Princeton. Her dad is a “landscaper”—he owns Prairie Restorations. Cool, right?! Holly attended Carleton College where she met Doug. They fell passionately in love, and formed the dynamic Bowen-Bailey duo fighting for social justice and equity that we know today. Okay, I made that up; Doug didn’t even go to Carleton…he went to Macalester College. How they met is a story for another day. Anyway, Holly studied to become a teacher and it is here that we find how her heartstrings are pulled.
Issues surrounding education have always been important to Holly; it’s why she became a teacher. But perhaps, in a cyclical way, it is because she is a teacher that education issues matter deeply to her. Holly is most concerned about the widening achievement gap, and she feels that the problem goes far deeper than we’d like to admit. Poverty is an obvious factor, but family life also comes into play. Families with means who flee the public school system, and schools being held responsible for standardized test scores and then receiving more or less funding based on those scores are also contributing factors. Having worked the last five years as a reading intervention specialist, Holly has seen the effects of the achievement gap first hand, and it has been both challenging and sad.
Holly finds inspiration in a number of different places but most especially in the person she is married to. Doug, for Holly, is an example of a life of action, focused on justice and equity, and he keeps her honest. She also draws strength from the stories of remarkable people like Jackie Robinson, Anne Frank, and Diana Nyad, and especially enjoys sharing their incredible and varied stories with her students.
When Doug and Holly moved from Fairbanks to Duluth, they wanted to find a community similar to the one they had at the Unitarian congregation they attended in Alaska. Through the grapevine, Doug heard about Peace Church. When they walked in the door and were surprisingly greeted by a college friend, they thought, perhaps, they had found what they were looking for. Then, sitting in the pew, they heard “For the Beauty of the Earth”, which was one of the few songs sung at Holly and Doug’s wedding, and they thought maybe they would come back. And they kept coming back. I, for one, am so glad they did.
Interviewed by Mark Hakes
Thank you to Pamela Mittlefehldt for editing the Voices for Justice article each month!