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Who Thelma Holland; Hank and Thelma
What Thelma Holland, 84 / Musician was '40s radio pioneer
When March 13, 2008
Where St. Paul, MN

By the time Thelma Holland put down her guitar, she and her husband had turned down a shot at the Grand Ole Opry, become friends with Gene Autry and were renowned for their country-western stints at the Sunset Valley Barn Dance.

Holland, of St. Paul, died Tuesday at the age of 84.

After several years of strumming melodies as a teen at family functions, Holland landed her first big gig at WSM Radio in Chicago, where she won an award as a country-western singer. At one point on WSM, Minnie Pearl opened for her.

On the road, she met her husband, Hank Holland of "Al and Hank," and the two formed the group, "Hank and Thelma," in which her husband played fiddle to her guitar.

In the 1940s, the two were invited to play the Sunset Valley Barn Dance, a traveling show. On top of that, Holland played on KSTP at the St. Paul Hotel every morning at 6 a.m., right after breakfast at Mickey's Diner. She also played on-air at WDAY in Fargo, N.D.

While in Chicago, she was offered a chance to go on the Grand Ole Opry, but declined because she was pregnant, her son said.

"She said, 'I'm in a bad business here to start a family in the first place,' " said Richard Holland. "She always said, 'It's kind of nice to be a big fish in a small pond, rather than a small fish in a big pond.' "

She met Gene Autry at WDAY, and the two were good friends, her son said.

"She said he was just a really, really sweet guy."

In the 1950s, Holland put down her guitar and let it collect dust, her son said. She went to work as a clerk for the state of Minnesota at the department of unemployment, where she stayed for roughly two decades.

Several years ago, Holland won a Radio Pioneer Award from KSTP.

But she couldn't have cared less, her son said.

"She didn't go (to accept the award) ... She used the award as a placemat," Holland said. "My mom always said that was another person, another time and another place."

Born in Waukesha, Wis., Holland moved with her parents to Cushing, Wis., and graduated from St. Croix High School in the early 1940s.

She is survived by her son, Richard Holland, and five grandchildren.

Visitation will be at 4 p.m. Friday at Spielman Funeral Home 344 University Ave., St. Paul. Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Wolf Creek Methodist Church in Wolf Creek, Wis.

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Contact Ted Vezner
St. Paul Pioneer-Press


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