Holt, Alex A. and Hanna

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .


Al Holt

(1936 - 2008)

Hanna Holt

(1939 - )

Two Eastern Europeans who escaped their homelands just after World War II, have helped bring joy to thousands with the sound of music in the hills just west of Denver.

At the age of 7, Al and his family left Romania in 1943 when the Russians moved in and chased them out of their village, moving to Olbendorf, Austria for six months before the Russians again chased them out of their homes.  In caravan style, they walked many miles to Knettelfeld, Austria to escape the oppression of the communists.  Low-flying planes would fly low above their heads, firing, and causing them to dive into ditches.

Displaced villagers had few options but to live in camps as immigrants. His family of five lived together in a one-room cabin in Austria until a cousin in Chicago sponsored them – along with most from his village – to move to the United States.  They arrived in New York on December 1, 1949. Decades later, he, too, would sponsor relatives wanting to escape oppression in Eastern Europe.

Al served in the US Army from 1956-59 and in the Reserves from 1959-64.

In 1949, Hanna's family in Chemnitz, East Germany, realized "something was going to happen." Her father's job in the news media allowed him to know more about happenings than what was generally reported to the public.  The Russians had moved in and taken control, and school children were being forced to learn Russian.

On the pretense of visiting a grandmother in Westphalia, West Germany, Hanna's family left a fully furnished home and all their belongings behind.  Hanna was 10 at the time.   "Refugees were not treated well after the war in West Germany," she recalled, citing a time that she and her two sisters hid in an outhouse during recess because of the way they were treated by other children.  "Grocers refused to sell food to refugees."

"About that time Australia opened up," Hanna recalled, and she and her family left for the land "down under" in 1955.  They would also live in a cabin as part of a camp for immigrants.  Businessmen would come by the camp daily to look for workers, asking who had experience doing various tasks.  The family was split up to be taken in by various families.

Her father took a job cutting sugar cane, a difficult job but the highest paying job; her mother and younger sister worked making lace collars; her older sister worked for a German family who printed a German newspaper.  At age 16 Hanna became a companion to the wife of a vice president of Warner Brothers movie studios.  The job did have some benefits, she recalled, saying she got to see movie premiers and met movie stars such as Alfred Hitchcock, Liz Taylor, and Harry Belafonte.

After three years in Australia, she had the opportunity to come to the United States, leaving her parents and sisters in Australia where she would visit them in later years.  She was sponsored by an American family on the north side of Chicago, and two years later she met Al.  Her sponsoring family put on a wedding for them in 1962.

After marrying, Al's job took them to a variety of cities in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Illinois before they moved to Colorado in 1978.  Here, he owned and operated his own company – Aluminum Supply  Co. – dealing in siding, windows and other products for the remodeling of homes.  He served on the Jefferson County Board of Adjustments and was involved with the Republican Party.

Hanna worked in daycare, part of Children's World when it opened in Evergreen, and later helping to open the Mother's Day Out program at the Methodist church.  The latter was a co-op that enabled mothers to utilize the daycare center at no cost if they themselves worked one day each week in trade.

Hanna attended travel trade school and worked for two years as a travel agent at Breezy Travel.  She volunteered for Forest Heights Lodge, conducting fundraisers at the Elks Lodge, holding picnics, and organizing summer games for the emotionally disturbed boys who spent an average of two years at the residential treatment center in Evergreen.

Al was a Kiwanian – first with the Blue Spruce club and later with the Evergreen club after a hiatus because of his extensive business travel.  As a Kiwanian he worked the annual pancake breakfast organizing, gathering auction items, and flipping pancakes.  As a Kiwanian, he rang the bell for the Salvation Army, worked on boosting membership, and frequently handled publicity.  Hanna became a member of Rotary Club of Evergreen in 1995 and has been part of a small group of Rotarians who traveled to Guatemala to check out the Starfish One-by-One program funded by the club.  Hanna has received the Paul Harris Award for her financial investment in Rotary.

Hanna's exposure to classical music in her youth influenced her love of it as an adult.  On one of their first dates, Hanna took Al to the opera house in Chicago to see the Nutcracker, something that sparked an interest in him as well.  Al had come from a musical family; he played the accordian.

Both developed a passion for classical music that would play a huge role in perpetuating the presence of the National Repertory Orchestra (NRO) in the Evergreen community long after it relocated its headquarters from the town – first to Keystone in 1986 and then to Breckenridge.  Previously known as the Colorado Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO), the orchestra would bring together about 75 college-age students (aged 18-26) from all over the US and Canada for 9 weeks each summer, essentially to get live experience to improve their chances of being hired by a reputable orchestra upon graduation.

They were considered "the best of the best" of aspiring young musicians.  The orchestra was initially conducted by Walter Charles, the person who founded the Blue Jeans Symphony in 1960 and followed it to Evergreen in 1966. Carl Topilow, assistant conductor from 1972-75, replaced Charles in 1976 and remains its leader in 2012.

While based in Evergreen, they were housed at the Marshdale Lodge, provided meals, and paid a small stipend.  They played 30 public concerts up and down the Front Range.  The orchestra was governed by a local board of directors who took it upon themselves to raise money to make the effort possible.  The CPO board and the CPO guild arranged for area families to adopt young musicians, inviting them into their homes for home cooked meals and a "true mountain experience."

When the orchestra relocated to Keystone, Evergreen businessman Ted LaMontagne worked to keep it connected to Evergreen.  He worked with Dick Wulf, then executive director of the Evergreen Park and Recreation District, to acquire a large tent to host the orchestra three times each summer to perform free concerts to the public at Alderfer Three Sisters Park.

The Evergreen Music Festival started in 1990 as a nonprofit organization to bring the orchestra to town.  By 1996 Hanna was a member of the board – elected to be president at her first meeting – and Al would soon become a key player as well.  Hanna – known as someone who could get things done – served as president for 11 years.  They did more than just provide leadership.

During their time with the Music Festival, they worked tirelessly to do just about every chore associated with putting on the festival, whether it be putting up posters or syphoning water off the roof of the tent with a garden hose in the middle of the night after a torrential downpour the night before a concert.  They shoveled elk droppings from the middle of the tent when a herd bedded down there one night.  They washed down folding chairs with buckets of soapy water and stored elaborate sound equipment in their horse barn.

Unpredictable weather caused cancellation of a number of shows, and increasing costs cut the number of performances to one instead of three.  The sole performance continues to be the main event of Fourth of July festivities in Evergreen at the Lake each year.

"We picked a hard working volunteer to play the chimes for Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture" Hanna recalled.  "And to raise money we auctioned off the opportunity to be conductor of the orchestra."

In 2002 Hanna and Al received an award from the Evergreen Art Council for their Outstanding Contribution to the Arts.

The Holts retired from their leadership positions with the festival in 2007 when Al's health began to decline.  Since then the Evergreen Music Festival has expanded to take in additional kinds of music and is focused on the Fourth of July at Evergreen Lake.

After his death a year later, Hanna became active with the Evergreen Symphony Guild, which supports the Colorado Symphony through fundraising efforts to help with education of the musicians and for classical music concerts for children at Boettcher Hall.  The Evergreen Guild is one of 12 throughout the metro area; Hanna served as its president for two years.

Sources:  Al Holt obituary, interview with Hanna Holt