By Dianne Frances D. Powell
Pamela Hodapp Hollenbeck ’68 and Catherine Elizabeth Larson share a connection.
They are joined together by student experiences at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a love for the arts strong enough to pick a major in the field and their burning desires to make the world a better place by working toward peace and social justice. Larson, a current music student at SMWC, and Hollenbeck, a proud 1968 theatre graduate, may have never met in this life; they are nonetheless connected.
Larson, a junior, is the first recipient of SMWC’s Pamela Hodapp Hollenbeck 1968 Endowed Scholarship which was established by the Hollenbeck family last year in honor of the alum who is remembered for her eloquence, compassion and beauty — inside and out. The scholarship is presented annually to a junior or a senior with a demonstrated financial need and who exemplifies the values of peace and social justice.
“Peace and justice are not just words, they are emotions I feel everyday,” Larson wrote in her scholarship application essay. “As a student, I am committed to facts. As a friend, I am committed to empathy. I see a world where we open our doors instead of closing them …” she wrote.
Throughout her life, Hollenbeck opened doors — and hearts. Her activism began in the 1970s when she joined protests of the Vietnam War. Through the years, she joined countless efforts for causes she believed in often with her husband and daughters. She called out injustice where it stood.
“As we go through her papers now after her death, I’ve stumbled upon so many journal entries along with letters to the editors, letters to teachers, companies, etc. that express outrage over injustices large and small—from some infraction on the playground to larger issues of world peace and global politics,” said daughter Sarah Hollenbeck.
This activism, however, appears to have come from Pam Hollenbeck’s caring and empathetic nature. She is described by her family members as a great listener who never met a stranger. She made connections everywhere she went. “She was always fully present no matter the circumstance or the person,” Pam’s husband, Paul, said.
“She completed me; she gave me the confidence to find my voice and be true to the highest of values,” Paul said. “She enriched my soul which enhanced my capacity for empathy and she loved me unconditionally.”
Sarah said her mother was an avid storyteller who taught her the power that lies not only in stories but also in how they are told. The mother-daughter shared the mantra: “words matter.”
And the words being used to describe Pam Hollenbeck illustrate a life lived with great love for Paul, her daughters Corey, Emily, Annie, and Sarah and others who crossed her path. It would appear that those whose lives she touched had a story about her. “I called her Mamabear because that title captured her spirit—she was my nurturer, my comforter, and my most ferocious advocate. And this was true not only for my sisters and me, but for the circle upon circle of friends who make up our ‘family,’” Sarah said.
Two years after graduating from The Woods, Pam earned a graduate degree from Miami University. Her professional life took her inside schools, organizations and hospitals yet she remained rooted in art and education. Inside her high school classroom, students were taught to see the big picture and consider connections. “As I move through the world without her, I am so aware of how Mom listened to children,” Sarah said. “Whether it was her own grandchildren or students in one of the many classrooms she visited as a teaching artist or storyteller, I never saw her get frustrated or give up on a kid. She understood that how we treat our children is how we build the future we want to see in the world. I think she knew this her whole life, as an older sister caring for her siblings, as a student at SMWC, and onward.”
Pam was born in Syracuse, New York in 1946. She passed away on March 23, 2018 and shortly after, the scholarship was established as a tribute to her distinct qualities and a lasting connection to her beloved alma mater. “She so loved her SMWC years, the aura of the place, her lasting friendships made, but maybe most importantly she found a sense of independence and confidence of self that set her free to make a difference in the lives of so many,” Paul said.
Pam arrived as a freshman with qualities that included intellectual curiosity, a love of life, and an unmatched kindness of soul. SMWC enriched her gifts of eloquence and spirit as she evolved into an impactful model and passionate voice for women’s rights, environmental protection, peace, and social justice. Her obituary describes how she expressed her love for The Woods at the end. “In her last days on earth, Pam slipped her SMWC class ring on her finger, affirming how much she cherished the memories and friendships made during those years.”
Through this scholarship, Pam’s spark continues to burn bright.
In Larson’s words, “The benefit of the Hollenbeck Scholarship for me was motivation and inspiration. I was inspired to do more activities with the Peace and Justice Committee and share more love and peace around my community.”
Interested in establishing a scholarship for SMWC students?