Eugene, Oregon–People who knew Bertha Holt often mention her energy and pace of life. A brisk walk wasn’t fast enough for all she had to do in her day; she ran nearly everywhere she went. News media some times referred to her as “the jogging grandma,” and even in her 90s, she was still trotting down the lane near her little house in Creswell, Oregon, or around the track at the local middle school. To this day, if you know what you’re looking for, you can see the distance markers she set out alongside Gibson Lane. But of course, she was so much more than running and energy.
She and her husband Harry founded Holt International because they believed that children should have mothers and fathers of their own. It was simply a matter of obedience to God to pursue an opportunity He set before them. Of course, few people would have recognized this as an opportunity, only the many formidable obstacles that lay in the way of such an idea.
Later on Bertha’s faith helped lead this organization through difficult times. When her husband, Harry, died of a heart attack in 1964, many people assumed that the Holt program would simply close up. But Bertha said, “From the beginning this has been God’s work. If He wants it to continue, it will.” She had a remarkable way of bringing complex issues down to a simple choice to follow God and trust Him for the results.
She adored the children in Holt programs around the world, and she relished every chance to be with the wonderful blend of people represented by Holt adoptive families. Whenever families asked to photograph their adopted children with her, she would include the birth children as well.
Bertha held a special place in her heart for waiting children–those with disabilities or medical conditions and those who were older or siblings. She spent many months every year at the Holt Ilsan Center where over 300 disabled residents live and strive to develop the skills for living. To them, Bertha wasn’t just a symbolic grandma; she was their halmoni, grandmother.
On New Years Day, according to Korean tradition, people traveled to the home of their elders to perform a formal bow called a sebae. At Ilsan the residents would come to Bertha at her daughter, Molly’s house. I recall watching as one resident with severely spastic cerebral palsy struggled with tremendous effort and concentration to come to Bertha. In response and with a beautiful gesture of honoring this herculean effort, Grandma stood to acknowledge the bow.
Bertha passed away in July 2000. But her presence remains strong at Holt International. Her legacy continues: faith in God and love for children
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