Former O’Fallon City Councilman Ray Holden is fondly remembered not only for his accomplishments in the United States Air Force, but also as someone who got things done in his community.
“He was a very good man, a good councilman, a good leader and a good friend,” Mayor Herb Roach said.
After a long and distinguished 30-year military career, Holden retired to O’Fallon and became involved in civic projects and service to his constituents, including two terms on city council.
Holden, 83, died on July 25 after five and a half months of a hospital battle that began with a ruptured appendix.
A memorial service will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, August 14 at Wolfersberger Funeral Home, 102 W. Washington, O’Fallon. The family asks people to “come as you are”.
Holden was a founding member of the Friends of Scott group, which was instrumental in establishing a Junior Air Force ROTC at O’Fallon Township High School.
For the O’Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce, he was Chairman of the Scott AFB Military Affairs Committee for over 25 years. Holden also founded the annual Salute to Scott picnic and was a founding member of Scott Field Heritage Air Park.
Chamber manager Debbie Arell-Martinez warmly recalled Holden’s contributions.
“Our Military Affairs Committee wouldn’t be what it is today without Ray Holden. Our friend will be missed,” she said.
“As a veteran himself, Ray loved staying involved with Scott AFB. I think his favorite thing to do was to have our Tribute to Scott picnic in the park. The event has grown so much over the years, and he was very proud of that,” she said. “At the end of the event, the committee members would get together and drink a beer that Ray brought in his little cooler, and talk about what went right, what went wrong, and what we could improve next year.
“We were looking forward to Ray’s little cooler!”
She said Holden also liked to hang out in the dorms at Scott AFB on the nights when they cooked dinner for the residents.
“He spent his time chatting with the airmen. Last year we even asked him to help make tie-on blankets for Fisher House,” she said.
Her humility is why some of her successes have flown under the radar, her twin daughters, Amanda and Heather, commented.
“He never wanted credit for any of this, did nothing to get attention. He was happy to sit and watch how things were developing. That was her reward – to see how things were progressing,” Amanda Holden said.
Holden was elected as an alderman for Ward 6 in 2013 and again in 2017, choosing not to run in 2021.
Roach praised Holden’s temperament and leadership skills.
“Ray was one of the most balanced people you will ever meet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose patience with very trying subjects. He always tried to look at both sides of an issue before taking a decision. His leadership in the discussions was second to none,” Roach said.
Air Force career
Holden joined the Air Force after college and his career spanned 30 years, reaching the rank of colonel. As a navigator, he has accumulated more than 4,000 flight hours, including more than 900 combat hours and 237 combat missions.
Among his proudest accomplishments was his pivotal role in building the replica of the Berlin Airlift Memorial, which was located on Frankfurt’s common-use airport. For this accomplishment, he was awarded the Commanders’ Cross for Distinguished Service of the Federal Republic of Germany.
In his final assignment at Scott AFB, Holden helped make the Airlift Memorial a reality and coordinated the air delivery of large pieces of the Berlin Wall for display. He also served as Crisis Action Team Director for Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Holden was born April 30, 1939 in Ludington, Michigan, and grew up in Whitehall, Michigan. He graduated from Ferris State University and later earned a master’s degree from Central Michigan University.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant, Holden served as a supply officer at Williams Air Force Base in Arizona and then at Cape Romanzof in Alaska. He trained as a navigator at Mather AFB in California, then was posted to Forbes AFB in Kansas. It was there that he began flying around the world as a C-130 Hercules navigator with temporary assignments in Europe and South and Central America.
In Vietnam and Thailand for two years of the Vietnam War, Holden flew C-130 aircraft TDY missions with the 41st Tactical Airlift Squadron at Naha AFB in Okinawa. They supported the Blind Bat night mission, which included dropping flares over North and South Vietnam.
Next is Dyess AFB in Texas, with more trips to Europe, South America and Africa. After this time, Holden held a desk position as a staff officer, serving at McGuire AFB in New Jersey, Scott AFB, and the Pentagon.
His favorite assignment was as Combat Support Group Commander at Rhein Main AFB in Frankfurt, Germany.
Life at O’Fallon
After retiring from the Air Force in 1992, Holden began a second career as co-owner of RE/MAX Preferred.
The Holden twins, who were adopted from Korea when they were 6 months old, said they were 3½ when they moved to O’Fallon.
“Everything he did was for others before himself. When we were growing up, he based his decisions on our well-being. Family meant everything to him,” Heather said.
“He always saw the best in people. He always said “life is beautiful”. I admired that in him even though I couldn’t always imitate him. He told me “don’t give up on the world yet”. There’s a lot of good there.
Holden served on the O’Fallon planning commission, including participation in the Wednesday morning economic development group. He served on the town’s 150th anniversary planning committee.
While on city council, his fellow aldermen referred to him as “Mr. Tremendous.”
Roach explained that he started calling him that because when you asked him how he was, his response was always “Wonderful.”
He wanted to be re-elected in 2017 because of his “desire to keep O’Fallon the No. 1 city that it is,” he told the News-Democrat.
Holden served on the board of directors of Beacon Ministries, served on the advisory board of the Salvation Army, and belonged to the Rotary O’Fallon club.
He was an avid cyclist and would go on long rides with his “cycling team”, Drost Park in Maryville being one of his favorite stopping points.
Learn more about Holden
He is the father of five children: Martin Holden of Denver; O’Fallon’s David Holden; Dr. Christopher Holden of Chicago; and twins Amanda and Heather Holden, both of O’Fallon. He also has a grandson, Milo.
Holden is survived by one brother, Tom Holden of Flower Mound, Texas. Her siblings Jack and Paul Holden, Mary Alice Ranthum and Barbara Westbrook are deceased.
He was cremated and his ashes will be interred in a private family ceremony on Monday, August 15 at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis.
Memorial donations can be made to the Salvation Army at www.salvationarmy.org.
For obituary information, visit https://www.wfh-ofallon.com/obituary/ray-holden.
This story was originally published August 9, 2022 12:39 p.m.