A bad day at work more than a dozen years ago prompted Holly Holm to leave her hometown for the Brainerd lakes area, and now she begins the next chapter in her life as president of the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce.
"I just felt the need to try something new with my life," Holm said of the move in 2006 from New Ulm to the lakes area.
"I had a really bad day at work. I was sitting outside on the steps and my husband came home and said, 'What's wrong,'" Holm said. "I said, 'I think we should move.'"
Her husband, Patrick Clark, asked where to, and Holm said Brainerd, knowing the area's outdoor recreation opportunities would be enticing to him.
So without doing any research and at the start of the Great Recession, the couple had luck selling their home in New Ulm, where both had grown up and where Holm still has family. They didn't find a home in Brainerd right away, though, and contacted Clark's distant cousins, Jim and Linnea Anderson, who were kind enough to take the couple into their home.
With a laugh, Holm said she showed up at the Anderson home and said, "Hi, I'm Holly. I guess I'm staying in your basement."
"That was just the beginning of how great this would be," Holm said, noting the Andersons are the kindest people, and she and Clark did buy a home in Brainerd.
After working at Range Printing for a couple years, Holm worked at the Brainerd Chamber of Commerce for eight and a half years and then was Brainerd Community Action executive director for two years before becoming head of the Nisswa chamber earlier this month.
She graduated in 1998 from what was then called Mankato State University with a degree in graphic design and a second specialization in printing. She worked in Madelia for about eight years in graphic design before taking a job back in New Ulm. She soon realized that was a bad decision.
"But look at where we ended up," Holm said. "Our decision to leave New Ulm and come up here - it was the best decision we made for ourselves."
One reason is community involvement. While working at the Brainerd Chamber, Holm said she met so many people.
"I understood how community togetherness works, how important it is and how fun it is," she said.
Now Holm is embracing her new hometown - she and Clark recently built a home in Nisswa, where they live with their bulldog, Georgia, whom they recently adopted from Heartland Animal Rescue Team in Baxter - and her new job.
After meeting many Nisswa business owners and staff during her first couple of weeks on the job in downtown Nisswa, Holm said their level of community involvement surprised her.
"You realize they're involved in Lions or 4-H or volunteer with Nisswa School. It's like a minimum of three hats everyone wears," she said. "It blows me away. And, quite honestly, it's impressive.
"That sense of pride and involvement is amazing and it's easy to jump on the bandwagon."
Her primary goal is to get out and meet chamber members and build relationships. She's enjoying learning about the businesses and all they offer. And she's enjoyed meeting people who stop at the chamber office to introduce themselves as volunteers for various events.
"That's so unbelievably awesome," Holm said.
Holm succeeds Shawn Hansen, who resigned the position after seven years in that role. She recently announced she will start work in April as executive director for Kids Against Hunger-Brainerd Lakes Area, located in Nisswa.
"Holly is a great addition to the Nisswa Chamber," Hansen said. "With her background in chamber and tourism, she will do an outstanding job as the Nisswa Chamber president."
When they aren't working, Holm and Clark enjoy taking day trips on their Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Holm also enjoys gardening, and she plays the accordion.
"You don't hear that music up here and I kind of miss it," she said of the music played in New Ulm, known for its German roots.
She's been taking lessons for four years, and even played with her husband, who plays guitar, and some friends at the Jack Pine Brewery.
"You can't be in a room with somebody playing the accordion and not have a good time," Holm said. "And that's how I want to live my life."
As for the future, Holm said there is room at home for more pets. She's always dreamed of having a home filled with misfits - think three-legged dog or one-eared rabbit.
"People who know me would not be surprised to hear that," Holm said, noting she wants to be quirky and unique - remember the accordion. "I just think it makes life a little more fun and memorable."