“I look back and there’s part of me that wonders if life would have been easier if I had created a nice clear thread, a highway to walk down,” says Matthew Holm, Friends of the University of Minnesota Libraries Board member. Yet, it’s a passing fancy, because ever since he was a youngster growing up in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, he has immersed himself in a variety of activities and interests.
If you look at his high school yearbook, Holm says, “I was on every page: drum major, captain of the speech and debate teams, sports, choir, band, business, and drama.”
His path keeps looping back to libraries, however. Even in his current position in Carlson Corporate Affairs for the Carlson Companies, he regularly comes to the Archives and Special Collections in Elmer L. Andersen Library. He looks up the stories that make up the history of the famous family company based in the Twin Cities — started by a young man named Curt Carlson with a loan of $55.
“He’s the kind of guy you want on your team,” says Lisa Keske, who worked with Holm at Xcel Energy.
It was more than six years ago that she and Holm worked on the corporate responsibility and community issues for the utility.
“We had a fair bit of change,” Keske says. “We reported to three different vice presidents.” During the ups and downs, however, Holm was “one of the most dependable and hard-working people I’ve ever worked with.”
She found him trustworthy, clear-sighted, and full of integrity. With Holm on the team, Keske adds, “we were able to make good investments in the community.” She now works on the philanthropic arm of Bremer Bank and remembers Holm with respect and fondness.
Plus: “He has incredible knowledge of ’90s R&B and hip-hop.”
Abdul Omari, former U of M Regent and founder of amo enterprise, remembers Holm as about five years older than he was when they shared a cube during their second year at the Humphrey School. They each were pursuing a minor in Human Rights, and Holm also was a new father to his second child.
For the discussion boards and other outlets for expression in their joint classes, Omari would often bounce close to deadlines because, he says, he was a procrastinator. Initially, he found it odd that Holm also would be (nearly) late.
“One day it registered to me — he actually wants to be a partner at home!” They have remained close friends in the years since and Omari admires Holm’s commitment to others, from his work with the African Development Center to the sacrifices of “sleep and not doing some fun things” that he made for his family.
“He is very much a We person, not an I person,” Omari says.
Always exploring, Holm graduated high school and trained in radio, then moved into hospitality work at a hotel in Boston, and later became an operations manager for a manufacturer. “I like to move a little bit,” he explains, then adds: “I like to dig in to learn and try new experiences where I can.
“It keeps things interesting.”
He and his boss at Carlson joke that one day Holm will need to deal with a bucket full of rubber ducks and the next delve into measures to fight human trafficking.
So perhaps it’s no surprise to those who know him that Holm came to the University of Minnesota to study evolutionary psychology but ended up in an interdisciplinary major that focused on empowering citizens.
He wanted to know, he says: “How do folks use new tools and approaches to shape what happens to them?” This was a few years prior to the Arab Spring uprisings in which ordinary people expressed their desires for freedom from autocracy.
He went on to earn a master’s degree from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Global Public Policy. His interest in fostering democracy remains strong. Along with the Friends of the Libraries board, he has served more than eight years on the board of the Center for New Democratic Processes.
During his formative years, the family lived outside town on a horse ranch, and he would ride in the car to and from Cannon Falls with his mother. In the hours between school getting out and them heading home, he’d walk to the local public library.
There he got to know the librarians by name and he read, well, “everything I could” — from the graphic novels about Tintin, nonfiction accounts, and books about ghosts to compilations of the earliest photographs.
Libraries have always been a refuge for Holm. After marrying, he worked two jobs while he and his wife had their first child, and he attended the U of M. They lived on “coffee and dreams”; when he had “free” time, he would go to Walter Library or Wilson Library for their quiet, to study.
No matter where he finds himself, Holm has been a believer in making the world better. He previously worked with a nonprofit committed to economic development and opportunities for Minnesota’s African immigrants and refugees. He is proud of the work he does in everything from employee engagement to grantmaking at Carlson.
It can be challenging to balance work, family, and everything else he does, however. Holm admits it gets a little tough at times.
Yet Holm says: “I’m still an optimist.” And his positive energy is all to the good for the rest of us.