Vernon Hollister began and ended his journalism career in his native Wisconsin, and in between shared his passion for fine writing and literature with the high school students he taught for more than 36 years, mostly at Robbinsdale Cooper High School.
From 1967 to 1998, Hollister brought his humor, patience and love for English and creative writing to the classes he taught at Cooper, where he was a student favorite. He coached speech students in declamation and was faculty adviser of the award-winning student newspaper and yearbook.
“He was able to communicate with students at a level that was so real, so genuine and so positive that he was able to reach students of many ability levels,” said Gretchen Heath, who taught with Hollister at Cooper for 12 years. “It was his honesty and genuine care and affection for students and the love of the subject areas that made him special to a lot of kids.”
Hollister died of cancer March 10 in Eau Claire, Wis., at age 76.
Hollister’s foray into journalism came while attending high school in Barron, Wis. He quit running track his senior year to serve as editor of the high school paper, said his brother, Cliff, of Thorp, Wis. Hollister was active in drama and journalism while attending the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He graduated in 1960 with an English degree and later earned a master’s degree.
After teaching for six years in two small northern Wisconsin towns, “the big city was calling,” his brother said, and Hollister took a job at Cooper.
Under his tutelage, the school’s newspaper, “Hawk’s Quill,” and the yearbook, “Talons,” won several awards of excellence. Hollister won several individual awards, including Taylor Publishers National Advisor of the Year, according family members.
“He had a nice mix of guiding us and the freedom to explore,” said Nancy Houseman, who was yearbook editor in 1979. “He was a very easygoing teacher who was knowledgeable in his subject areas.”
After leaving Cooper, Hollister settled in Armstrong Creek, Wis., and worked as a reporter and photographer for the Forest Republican and Florence Mining News from about 2000 to 2014. Wearing his signature baseball cap, Hollister took his notebook and camera throughout northeastern Wisconsin, covering everything from high school sports to festivals to the accomplishments of community residents. He turned in three to four stories a week along with scores of photos, said publisher Hank Murphy.
“His work was quality work,” Murphy said. “His photo captions were complete and accurate, and he never misspelled names. He was a guy who would take some little festival, gatherings and things important to the community and bring those things to light. He covered those things and made people feel good about where they lived. He was a gem.”
His column, called “Vern’s Version,” was a reader favorite, his brother said.
Hollister liked to travel and went “wherever the car pointed,” Cliff Hollister said. He often visited family in Utah and Alabama and took trips to Shakespeare festivals in Canada and England.
Besides his brother Cliff, Hollister is survived by two other brothers, Frank, of Columbia, Mo., and William, of Huntsville, Ala.; sisters, Nancy Gotham, of Superior, Wis., Sandra Fitzsimmons, of Ogden, Utah; Barbara Heugly, of Plain City, Utah; and Susanne Hollister-Salisbury, of Fridley.
A memorial service and reception will be held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. April 18 at the Armstrong Creek Community Center in Wisconsin. A local reception also will be held at 2 p.m. May 9 at Michael Servetus Unitarian Church, 6565 NE. Oakley Drive, Fridley.