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Former NFL line judge, Art Holst passes away

Art Holst, Super Bowl line judge, passes away.



Arthur J. Holst, 1922 – 2018

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Art Holst (pictured above, second from the right, in glasses) passed away December 18, 2018, at age 96. At the time of his death, we think he is was the oldest-living official.

Holst was born in Galesburg, Illinois in 1922, and lived most of his adult life in Peoria, Illinois. He served his country in World War II in the United States Army.

After being discharged, Holst went into business and a professional acquaintance suggested that he take up football and basketball officiating to stay in shape.

Holst worked his way up the ranks of officiating and the NFL hired him in 1964. Holst worked as a field judge in is first season. In 1965, when the NFL added the line judge position, Holst became a line judge for the rest of his career.

He wore uniform number 33 for his entire NFL tenure.

While in the NFL, Holst worked on crews headed by referees Norm Schachter, Bud Brubaker, Bob Finley and Bob Frederic.

Holst worked nine playoff games in his 15-years, back when there were fewer playoff games. He worked three divisional playoffs, four conference championships and two Super Bowls (VI and XII; a short clip of Holst reporting a foul to Jim Tunney in Super Bowl XII).

Holst had a great view of several famous playoff games. He was the line judge for the Hail Mary divisional playoff game between the Cowboys and Vikings in 1975. He worked the Patriots and Raiders divisional playoff game in 1976 that became known as the “Sugar Bear Hamilton game,” after referee Ben Dreith called a controversial roughing the passer penalty on the Patriots defender.

Perhaps the most famous regular season game Holst was a part of was the Raiders-Chiefs 1970 game where a wild brawl ensued after the Raiders hit Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson late (video). The game encapsulated the Chiefs-Raiders rivalry that remains to this day.

Holst’s last game was the 1978 AFC Championship Game between the Oilers and Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium. Holst worked his final game in freezing rain that flooded the field.

After he retired, Holst wrote the book Sunday Zebras, where he wrote about his life and his career in the NFL.

In retirement, Holst served as an officiating observer and scout. He also continued his public speaking engagements. Holst spoke about his World War II service and how many of his colleagues paid the ultimate price. Just months before his death, he spoke about the price of freedom.

Our sympathies to everyone who knew him and loved him.

The text of his obituary from the Ann Arbor News appears below.

Holst, Arthur Art Holst, Veteran, NFL Official and Acclaimed Public Speaker, Dies at 96. Arthur J. Holst, an infantry captain who served with General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army in World War II before becoming a line judge in the National Football League and then a highly regarded Professional Speaker, died on December 19, 2018 in Fort Myers, Florida His loving partner Elizabeth Payne was at his side. Art and Elizabeth Payne of Ann Arbor, Michigan came together in 2003. Elizabeth’s six children, their spouses, their grandchildren, and great-grandchildren welcomed Art. “I am so blessed to have an expanded family, and I love them all; my own and the ones I was so lucky to acquire, along with my Dear Elizabeth,” Art wrote. Art and Elizabeth shared a busy and active life in Ann Arbor and were, as Art noted, “Blessed with many friends that are so vital in a happy life.” Art credited his World War II service, where he learned to educate, train and motivate troops to react to challenging times, as enabling his long and creative life. Just a few weeks before his passing at age 96, Art had occupied center stage at Ann Arbor’s famous Hill Auditorium to deliver a Story of Service alongside former service members of our other wars, at an annual event that Art had inspired and co-produced to honor veterans and to raise money for Fisher House Michigan. He was born April 20th, 1922 in Galesburg Illinois to Arthur W. Holst and Hildegarde Elizabeth (Hawkinson) Holst. Along with his beloved sisters, Art lived through the Great Depression, graduating from Knox College in Galesburg, IL in 1943 thanks, he always said, to his mother’s determination. Enlisting in the US Army in March of that year, Art graduated from Officer’s Candidate School and was deployed overseas in January 1944 as a 2nd Lieutenant assigned to help command the 17,000 servicemen crammed into every nook of the Queen Elizabeth. One of the fastest ships at sea, the passenger liner crossed the North Atlantic without escort, out sailing any German submarine threat. Engaging in the final push into Germany near WWII’s end, Art retained one of his captured prisoners as a personal translator, forging an unlikely and lasting relationship that proved invaluable when, as a lieutenant, Art personally accepted the surrender of a full German infantry battalion from a Colonel wearing the Iron Cross. He witnessed the horror of a German Concentration Camp and learned of the war’s end when an American B-17 bomber unnervingly opened its bomb doors overhead, only to drop leaflets announcing Germany’s surrender. Art often said: “We who lived were not heroes! Those who lie under crosses or Stars of David in Europe and in the Pacific were the true heroes, they gave it their all.” He was promoted to captain for his service. Art married Marjorie Johnson in January 1944 before he shipped out, the couple would raise four children and take joy in five grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. After his service, Art lived in Peoria, IL for 37 years, working in the building materials business for 12 years and then becoming Administrator of the Forest Park Foundation. Art’s love of sports led him to referee high school and college basketball and football before being selected in 1964 to become an official in the National Football League. In 1969, Art took the risk of leaving his work in building materials sales at which he had prospered to become a full-time professional speaker and rose to be a legend in the field. He spoke to corporate meetings, trade associations and professional groups of all kinds about handling change, problem solving, discipline, teamwork, communicating effectively. Art became an active and then emeritus member of the Speakers Roundtable, sharing his knowledge and expertise with other aspiring speakers. One of his gifts he confided, was learning to laugh at yourself. Art officiated NFL football for 15 years, serving as Line Judge in four NFL Championship games and officiated both Super Bowls VI and XII. When kick-offs receivers ran all the way to touchdowns, Art was proud that he kept pace all the way to the goal line. After retiring from the field in 1979, he worked for 18 years scouting college officials for the NFL and as an observer rating the officials at NFL games. Art’s rich professional life earned him numerous awards including the Council of Peers Award of Excellence, induction in the Speakers Hall of Fame, and being named the “Top Discovery in the Field of Humor” by the International Platform Association in 1982. He was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame in Peoria, Illinois. Art became a published author with Sunday Zebras, recounting his experience in the NFL and, more recently, a book of poetry. A Rotarian for 61 years, his generous contributions made Art a multiple Paul Harris Fellow. At age 92, Art embraced the challenge of raising money for Michigan’s first Fisher House, a sort of Ronald McDonald home for the families of veterans undergoing extended treatment at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System. Helping to unite the Rotary Club of Ann Arbor with the University of Michigan’s Veteran Services to create a big-production annual veterans storytelling event, Art performed as the “closer” the first year to a standing ovation. He was active in producing and performing on-stage every year thereafter, always bringing the audience of the 3,500-seat facility to their feet. Pre-deceasing Art were his parents, his sisters Corrine Sherwood and Marne Nape, his daughter-in-law, Rachel Holst and son-in-law Frank Mullen. The loving family he leaves behind to cherish his memories includes his beloved wife of 18 years, Elizabeth Payne Holst; his 4 children, Jeffrey Holst of Hilliard, Ohio, Julie Ann (Holst), Jones of Peoria Heights, Illinois, Suzanne (Holst) Mullen, of Creve Coeur, Illinois, Karen Holst and husband Jon Shefner of Knoxville, Tennessee, grandchildren Kelly Gaffney, Crystal Holst, Frank Mullen, Sophia Shefner, Isaac Shefner, stepchildren Annette and John Mazzarella, Martha and Jamie Harris, Cynthia and Paul Jones, Elizabeth Jayne Powell, Dru and Jonathan Payne, Rebecca and David Stowell, nieces, nephews, great-grandchildren and step grandchildren. Memorial service will be on January 12, 2019 at 2pm at Cypress Lake Methodist Church in Fort Myers, Florida, and a second memorial service will follow in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the spring. Those wishing to honor Art’s memory may make donations to Fisher House Michigan, the non-profit to benefit veterans’ families. Donations by mail may be sent to Fisher House Michigan 3250 Plymouth Rd, Ste 103, Ann Arbor, MI 48105.

Published in Ann Arbor News on Dec. 23, 2018

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"