Community Builders -

Molly Holkesvik

By Sara Friedl-Putnam | Spring 2024 Inspire(d)

It is said the art of teaching is in leading others to discovery. And Molly Holkesvik, longtime English teacher at Decorah High School, has helped literally thousands of Northeast Iowa students discover concepts both large and small, both in and out of the classroom.

Molly helped create the Viking Voyagers program at Decorah High School. / Photo courtesy Molly Holkesvik

“It’s the moments of genuine learning – of discovery and realization – that we have together that keep me going,” she says. Luckily, she’s just as motivated today as the day she joined the DHS faculty in 2002.

In her 20-plus years in the classroom, Molly has helped students hone their communication skills in a variety of ways, from grasping correct grammar to enhancing vocabulary to mastering the ability to write concisely. Beyond the classroom – as a speech, cross country, and (sometime) swim/dive coach – she has helped many of those same students build confidence, achieve goals, and better understand the definition of teamwork.

“It is a totally different kind of learning for students,” Molly says. “And I really get to know them when I see them outside the classroom, in different realms; I get to push them in different ways and see them grow in different ways.”

As an assistant coach, she helped guide the DHS girls cross country team to a conference title in 2023 and an 11th-place finish at state. And as one of DHS’s six speech coaches, she helped program participants earn a school-record-tying 16 All-State Large Group Speech nominations in early February.

Molly Holkesvik is one of DHS’s six speech coaches. / Photos courtesy Molly Holkesvik

Indeed, one might think that given all the long days Molly logs during the academic year – “so many hours” she confirms with her characteristic grin – she would take the summer off. But for Molly, whose self-professed goal is to “help everyone I can and meet tons of people,” the summer months present yet another opportunity for discovery.

Several years ago, Molly took over what was then an annual summer trip for DHS students to New York, but when the number of participants began to dwindle, she reimagined the program, and Viking Voyagers was born. In 2019, she coordinated a trip for students, family members, and a few fellow DHS faculty members to Europe (England, France, and Italy). Subsequent groups have toured Greece and Spain (2021) and Costa Rica (2022 and 2023), while future trips are planned for Ireland, Scotland, and England (2024), and Japan (2025).

Molly Holkesvik coordinates Viking Voyager trips. In 2021, DHS students (and some family and staff to help) went to Greece. / Photos courtesy Molly Holkesvik

Molly traces her deep-seated passion for seeing the world (and helping others do the same) back to her childhood. “My father died when I was two-and-a-half, and that changed my life,” she explains. “When I was young, we couldn’t afford to travel much … and that’s why I’m so passionate about helping students see the world. It’s really important to me because they learn so much from these trips, not only facts, history, and situational awareness but also how to travel, how to appreciate different cultures, and how to maneuver unexpected challenges.”

Molly emphasizes that her dedication to educating today’s youth is simply paying forward the investment her own teachers made in her. She had many impactful experiences with her own English teachers at DHS, she says, and also lots of fun participating in speech, drama, choir, band, and cross country throughout high school. 

Those experiences steered Molly toward studying speech and drama, English, and secondary education at Luther College in 1992; there she encountered “amazing, inspiring, wonderful” professors like Mary Hull Mohr, Peter Scholl, and Terry Sparkes. These and other teachers reinforced her career path even as she and her husband, Bob, also a Luther student, started a family that would ultimately include one daughter (Marea) and four sons (Hans, Steven, Dawson, and Nils). 

Molly is currently board president of Decorah’s New Minowa Players theatre group. Listen to a Rhymes with Decorah podcast featuring Molly & NMP at / Photo courtesy Molly Holkesvik

“When we could, Bob and I found classes that were opposite of each other, so when I was in class, he was watching the kids, and when he was in class, I was watching the kids, and somehow that worked,” Molly reflects. “Isn’t that wild?”

Molly poses with her husband of 30 years, Bob Holkesvik, her “ultimate support system.” / Photo courtesy Molly Holkesvik

Molly went on to earn a master’s degree in communication arts from the University of Northern Iowa in 2002. Beyond furthering her own education – and devoting her career to educating others – Molly has finished two full Ironmans (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.22 run), three half-Ironmans, and multiple marathons. In the community, she’s acted in, directed productions for, and currently serves as the board president of the New Minowa Players community theater group. Last November, she co-directed (with Alison Blake) Ye Olde Cabaret: New Minowa Players Through the Years, its 200th show. “It emphasized how important every single person involved in each community theater production really is, from the performers on stage to the people setting up that stage to the people coming to watch,” says Molly. “In order for community theater to work, that continuum of support has to happen, and I think Decorah excels in that.” 

Given all she has accomplished in roles as teacher, coach, wife, mother of five, and grandmother of four, it would be remiss not to ask Molly how she’s able to wear so many hats. Her response is lightning-quick: the unfailing assistance and partnership of her husband of more than 30 years. “Bob is the be-all, end-all of husbands,” she says. “He really is the ultimate support system.”

Sara Friedl-Putnam

Sara Friedl-Putnam enjoyed learning more about Molly Holkesvik while writing this piece and is thankful for the investment Molly made in her own daughter, Maddie, as her English teacher, speech and dive coach, and all-around cheerleader.