John Holladay sits in his office , half full of boxes, preparing to leave the job he has held for 46 years.
Holladay announced his retirement from MCCC earlier this year. He began in 1968, just four years after the college was created.
He has worked under five different college presidents and has taught thousands of students.
“I’ve had about 15,000 students, so when I see students on the street I hope they don’t take offense if I don’t remember their names,” he said.
Some students, however, he did get close with.
“The ones you get to know outside of class are the ones you remember the most and get to make a personal connection with,” Holladay said.
A Michigan resident, Holladay went to Marine City High School near Port Huron. He attended Eastern Michigan University and received a bachelor’s degree before completing his master’s and doctorate at the University of Michigan.
He began teaching the fourth grade in his senior year of college and loved it; he initially planned on being an elementary teacher.
But then he took a required philosophy class and fell in love with the subject. He ended up pursuing a major in literature and minor in philosophy, although he did not predict what would happen.
He learned about an opening at MCCC when the department chair called him about a position teaching English. In what Holladay calls, “probably one of the most unique interviews ever,” he got the job.
“I was 22 at the time. He wanted to know if I’d ever played paddleball and I had my interview on the paddleball court at U of M,” Holladay said.
He was 23 when he started working at MCCC and has been a full-time faculty member ever since. Many people know him by the nickname, “Doc” Holladay.
Early in his career, Holladay recruited his best students who showed an interest in film and started a group called the Cinema Guild. The Guild showed about six films a year to the campus. The original films shown were in 16 millimeter format and were expensive to rent. After eight years, films began to come out on VHS videotapes.
Holladay is also known for creating MCCC’s Writing Fellow program after hearing about a similar program starting at Brown University.
“I always tried to catch on and learn the new things that were coming,” he said. “You don’t have to be an Ivy League school to do that; our students are as good as anybody’s.”
He started The MCCC Writing Fellow program in 1989 and ran it for three years before giving it up to teach full time again. In 1994, Timothy Dillon, a former student of Holladay’s, took over the program.
“I think it was around 1970 he was my comp 2 instructor,” Dillon said.
“He had the vision to recognize we needed a writing center when no one else did. John certainly helped me a great deal when I first started. It’s modeled after what he did, It’s based on a solid foundation he made.”
“See you on the golf course,” Dillon said of Holladay’s retirement.
Other projects Holladay is credited with starting include the Images literary magazine and teaching the first online course at MCCC.
“I was curious about that, having grown up in a time when the only computers that existed filled entire rooms,” Holladay said.
He sat in on an online class and then took one to see what it was like. In 2000, he started teaching online classes and has taught four in the last ten years.
Holladay also served as chairman of the Academic Review Committee for over 20 years. The committee meets with students who have flunked out of their classes for any reason and are seeking to be allowed back in school.
“The difficulty was that so many of them just weren’t motivated. They just walked away and they got the bad grades,” Holladay said.
Before the committee decided that the most times a student could take a class was three, many students took a class over and over again until they passed, which cost the state money.
Holladay still keeps in contact with some of the students he allowed back into school, including one girl who had dropped out of high school. After flunking out of MCCC once, Holladay allowed her to return. She got straight A’s and moved on to Eastern Michigan University and is now a successful elementary school teacher.
“Motivation is 99 percent of it,” Holladay said.
“If they’re really motivated they can do just about anything, and if they’re not it doesn’t seem to matter what you do, but a lot of them have to go through that process before they can really get motivated.”
Holladay said he has come across many students who he thinks could have gone anywhere, even Ivy league schools, but have come to MCCC due to financial or family circumstances.
“Every year the faculty association gives out an award to the outstanding student, but we probably have quite a few that deserve it,” he said.
His own children all went to the University of Michigan, as he did. He proudly spoke of his son and two daughters and all of their accomplishments. His son is a computer programmer and his youngest daughter, who got a 35 on her ACT, has a degree in biology and is pursuing another in physical therapy.
Holladay is leaving to spend more time with his family and his wife who taught for 30 years in Ida.
“We went to the prom as freshmen in high school. We dated all through high school and all through college,” Holladay said.
The couple has been together for 55 years.
Holladay has often talked to students who were dating and considering marriage about what makes his marriage work, which he believes isn’t work at all.
“A lot of people said you have to work to be married, and I never found that to be true,” he said.
“I really believe that is because each person thinks that they got the better deal. You’re marrying this person because you’re not good enough for them and vice versa. Each person thinks he’s the lucky one, so you make it work.”
About his time at MCCC, Holladay said he had no regrets.
“If you do the same thing over and over again, you can get burned out pretty quickly, I’ve been lucky I’ve taught over 12 different classes. I think that’s probably a reason I didn’t retire ten years sooner, there was always something new I wanted to learn.”
He left nothing to be desired in his career at MCCC. He said he got to do everything he wanted to do, including teaching guitar and film.
He also is not worried about leaving the college as he believes it will continue to thrive.
“I think the college is in a great spot right now. I think the president is a very inspirational person,” Holladay said.
“I think the future is bright for Monroe Community College. I think they’re more than capable of keeping things going; I’m not at all concerned,” he said.
MCCC, however, will miss him. He was a friend and mentor to many faculty members.
Art professor Ted Vassar started two years after Holladay and will be the longest-standing faculty member once Holladay leaves.
“He was really the backbone of the English department back there,” Vassar said.
Lori Jo Couch is another former student who is now a colleague in the English department.
“I was a student of Dr. Holladay’s, and I can say from first-hand experience, his commitment to his students, high standards, and exemplary conduct make him one of the finest professors I have ever known. As a student and as his colleague, I have been inspired by John,” Couch said.
Fellow English professor Cheryl Johnston also spoke of Holladay’s inspirational value.
“I am greatly impressed by his absolute dedication to the art of teaching and his strong work ethic,” Johnston said.
“Dr. Holladay’s commitment to MCCC is absolute. He has inspired and encouraged many of his students to pursue English degrees,” she said.
As for his future after MCCC, he plans to do volunteer work with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, which he helped establish nearly 40 years ago. He also plans to read.
“All kinds of wonderful books I haven’t had time, because when you’re reading papers for 15,000 students, there’s a few books you miss along the way,” he said.
In 1968, there was a shortage of teachers, causing them to often move from job to job. Now, he suspects that applicants for his position will be in the hundreds, even with little advertising of the position.
Holladay recalled a time when he first showed the MCCC campus to his father.
“My dad said ‘this is a nice place to start.’ Boy, I wonder what he would think now,” Holladay said with a laugh.
“It’s a good place to finish, too.”