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home : news : news April 17, 2015

7/26/2013 10:25:00 AM
Life after Graduation: Barb (Holt) Brandt

by Connie Bickman

Note: This column features "hometown folks," specifically Cannon Falls and Randolph High School graduates - of any year - and their unique or interesting careers. If you know of anyone you feel would make an interesting feature, email cbickman@gmail.com - their email address must also be included.

Barbara (Holt) Brandt, Cannon Falls High School 1978, has fond memories of growing up in Cannon Falls that include spending time with her family, cousins and friends. "I grew up in the country, the Oxford Mill area, west of Cannon Falls. We went down to the river to swim on hot summer days. Some days we would bike to town to the swimming pool. We would hang out with neighborhood kids and just spend time being kids."

Daughter of Lavern and Bonnie Holt, Cannon Falls, Barb has two siblings: Jane Robertson, CFHS 1982, Ventura, California; and Chuck Holt, CFHS 1988, Cannon Falls. Barb is married to Bill Brandt (April 2013) and they currently live in Chanhassen, Minnesota.

Barb recalled working during high school, with her first job at Hi-Quality Bakery downtown. "Glen and JoAnne Molstrom, and Jerry and Marilyn Husaby owned the bakery back then and were wonderful people to work for. I learned a great deal about running a family business. It was good for a kid in high school to have this work experience and I believe that my work ethic was formed by this job at a young age. I was fortunate to be employed by good people, who modeled the way."

Barb also worked as a cashier for Bruce Johnson at Red Owl grocery store in the Cannon Mall until she graduated from high school. "Looking back on both of my early work experiences in Cannon Falls, I was fortunate to live in a small town and have the opportunity to work for people who were passionate about small town business and values."

After high school Barb went on to graduate, in 1980, from Model College of Hair Design, St. Cloud, with a Certificate in Cosmetology. She worked a year to get her manager operator license, then opened a hair salon in her Cannon Falls home while raising her children, Beth and Scott.

"I was happy being my own boss and helping people feel good about themselves. However, after 15 years in my salon, I felt it was time to do something else."

An ambitious mom, with both her kids in middle school, Barb continued to work in her hair salon, but also enrolled in Brown College, Minneapolis. This was the beginning of her passion for higher education, and transition to becoming a graphic designer.

"That degree, Associate of Applied Science in Advertising and Graphic Design (1996), provided my bread and butter for many years. I worked several years as a packaging designer at Midwest of Cannon Falls, and in 2002 took a job in Minneapolis. I liked working in the city, but still enjoyed living in a small town, so I commuted for quite a few years."

Around 2006, the college bug bit Barb again and she decided to get a four-year degree, this time at St. Catherine University. This experience was life changing for Barb.

"Not only did I get a degree (Bachelor's Degree in Communication Studies 2012), but I found my passion for social justice and making a difference in the world. My St. Kate's degree has led me to work for Volunteers of America (VOA-MN), a nonprofit service organization in Edina.

The path to arrive at Barb's current job at VOA-MN wasn't always easy and she stressed the importance of education in her life. "Being part of the downsizing of three different companies during the downturn in the economy, I was thankful for all time and money spent on furthering my education, because it has helped me get to the position that I currently hold. The challenge has been the transition from my corporate jobs to a nonprofit position because I didn't have a background or work experience in a nonprofit setting."

Barb bridged this gap by volunteering at her church, and networking with people in positions at nonprofit organizations. She also feels that her degree from St. Kate's helped bridge the gap from corporate to nonprofit. It has been a journey and a winding road for Barb, but she feels she has learned a great deal about herself and about people.

"I like my job because I'm learning new things every day. A communications specialist wears many hats and I adore the diversity of my job - from being a webmaster to writing stories, doing graphic design work, project management, communication collateral design, meeting and working with different people, and learning how to collaborate for the greater good of the organization. I am exactly where I want to be and this position uses my talents and gifts to help people."

Barb added, "VOA-MN's vision is 'Uplift All Lives' and their mission is to 'Help people gain self-reliance, dignity and hope.' This too, has become my passion and what the next chapter in my life is about - giving back. I try to be intentional and purposeful in my daily choices, aligning them with my values, while inspiring people to never stop learning and to never give up. My job is to help people keep their dignity as they age, give them hope for the future and gain self-reliance to become who they are meant to be in this world. I am truly honored to be a part of VOA-MN. It's my life's work, because even though the journey has been challenging, it has shaped me into the person I am today."

Barb encourages others to follow their heart to find their passion. "The best thing I did for myself was to keep trying and never give up. Sometimes there is a turn in the road and choices need to be made - this just means that we have an opportunity to take a different path. The key is to know that we have a choice! Life is a journey. It's better to try, do your best and fail, than to live with the regret of never trying at all. We never know what we can accomplish until we take the first step. I took a huge leap of faith going back to college and will never regret the life lessons I learned and the people I met along the way. There is always hope and someone who cares. I am a testimony to that. There were many angels sent to help me as I made my way through these life transitions!"

Looking back, Barb notes that the values she learned from both her parents helped her early on to achieve her goals. "They always told me to work hard, do my best, have integrity, try to put yourself in the other person's shoes, never judge anyone because you don't know the challenges they face, and do something positive for someone each day." She continued, "My mom is a deacon at the Episcopal Church in Faribault, and I have watched both my parents be a part of a church community outreach all my life. It has inspired me."

Family continues to be an important part of Barb's life. Her daughter, Beth Thompson is a personal trainer at Lifetime Fitness in Houston, Texas. Son, Scott, is a mechanical engineer at Emerson Process Management in Chanhassen, and is married to JoBeth (Rich) formerly of Cannon Falls. They have two young daughters, Ella Kay and Kate Charlotte, and live in Lakeville.

Work, kids and grandkids are just a part of this woman's busy life. "I like to garden, play 'Words with Friends' on my iPad, and I adore technology and gadgets. I keep up with friends on Facebook and keep a network of colleagues on LinkedIn. I've also been working on a few freelance projects."

Barb and her husband, Bill, love to cook together and he is quite well known for his famous "Bill's Hot Mustard." The couple are also part of a Community Meals Ministry at their church, Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church. "With grants from foundations, we provide people with hospitality once a month that includes fellowship, a warm evening meal, a food pantry and socks and underwear. Bill and I manage the socks and underwear part of the ministry. We have participated in this for almost three years and have made many friends and helped people who need a little extra love and encouragement."

The future doesn't seem to be slowing down for Barb either, who plans to volunteer at her church, serving hot meals in the Community Meals Program, and to become an Amicus volunteer. ". . . I also think there might be more college classes in my future at some point. This keeps me young and on my toes!" she revealed.

It also helps to have "heroes" like Eleanor Roosevelt, whose life has encouraged Barb to reach for her goals. "Eleanor was sassy, a wonderful writer and a woman many years ahead of her time," Barb relates. "I try to take life one day at a time and live simply. I try to enjoy and live in the moment as much as I can...and not get too wound up about things in life that really don't matter in the grand scheme of things. I have a great life and am grateful for where I am today."

A good place to be. . .and good advice from a woman with resolve and perseverance to never give up.

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