On a beautiful blue sky and golden sun Montana day, December 3rd, 2022, the world lost a wonderful man, Allyn “Sonny” Holland. He passed away at the age of 84 shortly after a big Bobcat win at Birchwood Senior Living in Bozeman surrounded by his daughters.
As a beloved husband, father, brother, brother-in-law, father-in-law, uncle, grandparent, great grandparent, coach and mentor to countless friends, students and players, Sonny was a man of strength, faith and courage throughout his life and during his later battle with Parkinson’s disease. As he would say, “Now is the time, this is the place.” He led a full and beautiful life and left a lasting legacy.
Sonny was born in Butte, Montana, on March 22, 1938, to Allyn and Irene (Reindl) Holland. The nickname “Sonny” was deemed to him by his mother at an early age. He was “Butte tough” and learned how to compete, work hard, and the value of a dollar. Boxing with his neighborhood friends, he gained some of his toughness, but was always humble in heart and giving in spirit. One of his first jobs was cutting Christmas trees to sell door-to-door with his Dad. He personified the importance of getting up early “lacing your boots” and getting to work—earlier than scheduled.
He met his high school sweetheart, Deanna, at Butte High. However, years earlier, he made it clear to his Mom at a dance recital after seeing Deanna dance, that she was the “girl he was going to marry.” They were married in 1958 and enjoyed 50 years of marriage together and raised three daughters, Wendy, Heidi and Jody, all born in Bozeman. Sonny was his family’s hero and he built the foundation for the lives they are living today.
After earning three letters in football, basketball, and track at Butte High, he led MSU football as a true freshman captain to its first national title in 1956 that included the first win against the Missoula Grizzlies since 1947. His number 52 was retired immediately following his last game in 1959.
After graduation from MSU with an Industrial Arts degree, Holland’s first coaching position was at Bozeman High School assisting Tom LeProwse in 1960. He then spent time on active duty in Fort Carson, Colorado, and graduated as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army followed by his first college coaching position at MSU while he earned his master’s degree. He also spent the next 12 years in the U.S. National Guard. Holland then joined Great Falls High’s 1964 state title team, then led the Bison to back-to-back state championship games as the head coach, claiming the 1965 state crown. After a school-district-mandated one season as the head coach at Great Falls C.M.R., Sonny was hired as offensive line coach at Washington State. In 1969, wanting to get back to his Montana roots, he took the head coaching job at Montana Western in Dillon, winning his first collegiate conference crown as head coach.
In 1970, he returned to his alma mater where Holland led the Bobcats to two Big Sky titles (1972, 1976) and the Division II playoffs in 1976 where they won all three postseason games and were national champions. The guys that played for him still referred to him as “Chief” and he played an influential role in their lives. As the 1978 season approached, Holland elected to walk away and spend more time with his family. He then worked in the MSU Alumni Office and as a special assistant to MSU President William Tietz until 1992 followed by three more years with the MSU Foundation, helping establish an endowment for each of the members of the 1956 team. He served as a Frontier Conference commissioner from 1981 to 1994.
After retiring in 1995, he continued to spend time in his beautiful home state enjoying the things he loved with Deanna, his daughters, grandchildren, and many other dear friends and family members. He had many talents beyond his coaching and mentoring. He was a master gardener, builder, hunter, and fisherman. He was a motivational and gifted speaker and was invited to speak many times at various sporting banquets, etc. throughout the state without using a single notecard. His words to his family, players, and students were heartfelt and he influenced countless people young and old.
In August of 2016, he was among the 13 inaugural inductees into the newly created Montana Football Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the MSU Hall of Fame and Butte Hall of Fame.
In 2011, MSU performed an upgrade of Bobcat Stadium flush with a 7,200 seat south end zone addition named after Holland. In 2016, a statue was envisioned by his former players and was erected in September. During the Bobcat Prowl before entering the stadium, a player ritual of touching the statue for good luck from Coach Holland is a tribute to his enduring legacy.
The family would like to thank the countless friends and supporters of Sonny, including Birchwood Senior Living and their incredible staff and residents who so lovingly cared for “coach” these past months. We are forever grateful.
Sonny is survived by his sister, Marlene Holland of Butte; daughters and sons-in-law, Wendy (Gator) Rivers, Heidi (Eric) Vinje, and Jody (Tyler) Delaney; grandchildren, Amy Wesen, Ashley Wesen, Lily Rivers, Alex Delaney Coleman (Charlie), Luke Delaney, and Hailey Vinje; great grandchildren, Peyton & Kolter Hoff, and Brooklyn Ask; former son-in-law, Tom Wesen; nephews, Dan & Joe Powers; niece, Alyssa MacDonald; and brothers-in-law, Bob Carpino (Sherry) and Clyde Carpino (Robin.)
He was preceded in death by his parents; and wife, Deanna, the love of his life, in 2008.
Please join for a celebration of life on Tuesday, December 13th at 11:00 a.m. at the Strand Union Building (SUB) on the MSU campus. Wear your blue & gold. Parking will be a “no ticket” day and please use the parking garage across the street from the SUB if possible.
At Sonny’s request, if you desire, memorials may be made to the Montana State University 1956 12th Man Fund c/o MSU Alumni Foundation, at PO Box 172750, Bozeman, MT 59717-2750.
Arrangements are in the care of Dokken-Nelson Funeral Service. www.dokkennelson.com [dokkennelson.com]