Nick Holman’s poignant stories recall growing up in a rural La Porte City foster home

First in a Series

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”
~Lou Holtz

Lou Holtz, the legendary football coach and motivational speaker, could have easily been talking about Nick Holman, a member of the La Porte City High School Class of 1963.

At a very young age, life dealt Nick a set of circumstances no child should have to experience. As a result, he, along with his eight brothers and sisters, were soon thrust into the state of Iowa foster care system. The third youngest child of the Holman siblings, Nick was just six years old at the time.

The foster care system is designed to be a temporary arrangement where adults provide for the care of children when their birth family is no longer able. On any given day, there are more than 430,000 children living in the United States foster care system. Over 125,000 of these children are eligible for adoption and they will wait, on average, about four years for an adoptive family. In 2018, 56% of the children who left foster care were reunited with their families or living with a relative. Another 25% were adopted.

The one thing all these children from broken homes have in common is the uncertainty of what lies ahead. Thus, the need for loving, stable homes with capable parents who can adequately deal with the unique needs that foster children may present.

Growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, Nick and his brothers and sisters found such a home in rural La Porte City. Owned by Wellwood and Ruth Williams, who served as foster parents for dozens of children, Nick would spend twelve of his formative years at a place known simply as “The Farm.”

Unable to have children of their own, the Williams’ journey into foster care came after the tragic loss of their adopted infant son.

“They were very religious people, and I think they just thought, it’s the right thing to do if we can, in any way, help out kids who had tough backgrounds,” Nick recalled.

While growing up in foster care certainly has its challenges, Nick noted that doing so while living on The Farm made the experience even more unique.

“It was almost like an institution rather than a foster home, in that we had some kids that were only going to be there for four weeks to a year, or something like that. And yet, [there were] people like me and my family. I was there for over 12 years. So that was quite a bit different from the normal foster home. Put that onto a farm, which has its own regimen. When you put the two together, there are just a lot of unusual things that happened at The Farm that would not happen on a normal farm because you had foster kids there,” Nick said.

“Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
-Lou Holtz

Over the years, as Nick has shared some of his experiences on The Farm with family members, friends and former classmates, he’s been encouraged by them to write them down to share with others. Upon retiring after a successful career in the United States Navy, followed by work as a plant manager and long range planning for an international food company, Nick finally had the time to reflect on his years growing up on The Farm before putting pen to paper. As can be expected, his stories cover a wide range of topics and emotions, ranging from light-hearted and humorous to some that are rather intense. They are the stories that inspired a singular motivation to rise above the chaotic origins of his youth to make a positive impact on those around him. The values learned after more than a decade of life on The Farm, taught by foster parents Wellwood and Ruth Williams, have played an important role in his adult life.

“It’s certainly helped me an awful lot just in terms of this idea of order and discipline and responsibility. And that was because on a farm there are just so many things always going on that have to be done. So you assigned those responsibilities to people. That is their chore. And you just get used to this chore. This is my chore, this is my responsibility. So that made it easy for me to adapt to the military. Some people have a tough time [making that transition]. I did not because of this sense of order and responsibility. And so that was really a big thing that helped me once I got away from the farm,” he said.

“I am most proud of my marriage and my kids because I came from a family where the marriage [of my birth parents] was an absolute disaster. Fortunately, I got put into a situation with the Williams home, where Mom and Dad Williams, their marriage was just so strong and so steady, that it was an inspiration to me,” he added.

Next Week: What was it like to grow up as a foster child on a farm in the 1950s? Nick Holman shares “Beginnings,” the first of several stories he has authored about his life on The Farm.