A standing ovation followed Andrea Holmes Volturo to the stage of the Oklahoma Judicial Center as she accepted Maj. Helen Freudenberger Holmes’ posthumous induction into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame.
“Helen Holmes never intended in her life to be first in anything,” Volturo, Holmes’ daughter, told the audience. “The barriers were there, but she did not see barriers. Obstacles were considered opportunities. When she saw needs, she looked for solutions.”
A trailblazer in many aspects of her life, after graduating from Oklahoma A&M with a bachelor’s degree in English in 1936, Holmes became the first woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin with a master’s degree in agriculture journalism. A few years later, she added another first to her repertoire: the first woman to teach journalism at Oklahoma A&M University. She also served as the founding sponsor of Theta Sigma Phi at OSU, a women’s journalism fraternity, now OSU Women in Communications.
“She enjoyed her time at OSU,” Volturo said. “She was always so curious, loved to write at the Daily O’Collegian as a student and enjoyed passing those passions on to students when she became a professor.”
In July 1942, Holmes began her pioneering journey in the military. She was the first woman in Oklahoma to be sworn into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.
After training and a promotion, Holmes served as the WACs’ public relations officer in Washington, D.C.
“She had a cathartic effect on people,” Volturo said. “She could relate to people on any level whether it was age, socioeconomic, race, creed, color, sex, political party — she treated everyone fairly, made them feel understood and seen.”
One of her fondest memories from the military occurred when she was invited to have tea with first lady Elanor Roosevelt.
“She greatly admired the first lady for her interest in women’s equality, including bringing women into the military,” Volturo said.
After the Allies’ victory in Europe and a promotion to captain, Holmes was sent to Germany as an intelligence officer. In 1947, she was diagnosed with severe tuberculosis and returned home immediately.
“She was devastated,” Volturo said. “She was at the height of her career and then, boom, flat on her back.”
Back in the States, Holmes was among the first group of patients treated with penicillin and recovered. She was promoted to major before retiring from active duty in 1948.
While traveling to Oklahoma City for medical care, she met Robert F. Holmes, and they married in 1949. She returned to the farming life and had three children: Charles, William and Andrea. Her husband died suddenly in 1962, leaving her a single mother.
“She exposed us to all those areas that are important for a young person to develop,” Volturo said. “She was not only our mother but our coach, our biggest supporter.”
All three children graduated from Oklahoma State University, and Charles and William went into the military.
“She never pushed us to go into the military,” William Holmes said. “She never suggested we do or be anything. Her attitude was: find your own way and I’ll support you.
“She was a tremendous listener who really understood. She wouldn’t give people much advice, but talking it through helped them process and decide what to do without any pressure. I think she knew people had to find their own way, make their own mistakes and figure out their lives for themselves.”
In 1979, she was elected the second woman mayor of Guthrie, where she pushed for architectural renovations and guarded municipal water rights.
“She was a selfless public servant,” Volturo said. “She was not about all the glory. She went and did whatever she saw needed to be done.”
Holmes died in 1997.
“I told her, ‘Mom, I don’t know how I am going to live without you,’” Volturo said. “She replied, ‘I have lived my life, now you must go and live yours.’ She got this distant look on her face, and I could sense she was rerolling the tape of her life. After a long pause, with a slight smile on her face, she said, ‘I’ve had fun.’”
A woman of several firsts, Holmes was also inducted into the Oklahoma Historians Hall of Fame and the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame in early 2019.
“People say, ‘I wish she could see all these awards,’” Volturo said. “I think she can, and she’s beaming a little on the inside, seeing that her values were carried on.”
STORY BY: Kylee Sutherland | Communications Intern
MEDIA CONTACT: Harrison Hill | Communication Specialist | 405-744-5827 | firstname.lastname@example.org