May 21, 2024

Jasper County names bridge after reserve deputy who died on duty in 1973

Howard Holdefer family hopes eponymous bridge reinforces officer sympathies, brings back positive memories

Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty speaks to Howard Holdefer's family during a dedication ceremony May 13 at the city park in Reasnor.

Georgia Pierce, of Colfax, introduced herself as “the one and only” daughter of Howard Holdefer before pointing out the rest of her big family. Sons, in-laws, nieces, nephews, grandchildren. A dozen names. The whole lot showed up to honor Holdefer’s memory at a bridge dedication ceremony last week in Reasnor.

It was a solemn reminder of the true loss that happens when a law enforcement officer makes the ultimate sacrifice, like Holdefer did.

On Oct. 30, 1973, Holdefer suffered a heart attack when assisting the arrests of three individuals. Some of the family members who attended the dedication ceremony did not even get a chance to meet him. Jeremy Holdefer, a grandson, only knew about him through the stories his father would tell him.

Even without having any personal memories of Holdefer, Jeremy played a big role in pushing for a bridge dedication for his grandfather. With a little help from the highway department and Jasper County Sheriff John Halferty, it was done. Jeremy knew how much his father, who has since passed, would have loved it.

“I only wish my dad could have been here to see it,” Jeremy said.

Pierce, who is the middle child with two older brothers and two younger twin brothers, is the only daughter to Holdefer. She remembers how fun he was and how protective he was of his family. He was very friendly, too, she said, and he didn’t judge others. Pierce said he believed people always had chances to be better.

Memories are not all the Holdefer family has left of their departed patriarch. The Jasper County Reserve Deputy Captain Howard W. Holdefer Memorial Bridge will now forever commemorate him and his service. If people who knew him drive by it, Pierce hopes they remember the good things about him.

“If they don’t know him, I hope they think about some of the other officers,” she told Newton News after the dedication ceremony, which saw a high turnout of family members, friends and officers. “Every time I see an officer I always tell them ‘Good luck’ and ‘Stay safe.’ That’s ingrained in me from my dad.”

Family members of Howard Holdefer pose for a photo next to a wreath bearing his image and the replica of a sign that appears near a bridge named after the reserve deputy who died more than 50 years ago. The bridge over the South Skunk River on F-62, just west of Reasnor, has been renamed to Jasper County Reserve Deputy Captain Howard W. Holdefer Memorial Bridge.

During the bridge dedication ceremony, Halferty thanked Steve Hodnett for being the “sign guy” and coordinating the sign placements near the bridge that goes over the South Skunk River on F-62, just west of Reasnor. Halferty also thanked the supervisors and his current and retired deputies, peace officers and reserves.

“We hope and pray this never happens to you,” he said. “Please, Holdefer family, know that all of these (officers) present are working in honor of Howard.”

Supervisor Denny Stevenson, who has long since retired from the sheriff’s office, served nearly 40 years as a volunteer firefighter and medic for Kellogg Fire Department. As a fellow volunteer first responder, Stevenson praised Holdefer’s volunteer work as a reserve deputy, especially with volunteerism dwindling.

“In this day and age all law enforcement departments throughout the country have trouble getting people to step up and take a position,” Stevenson said. “I think this will be a good reminder to people that back then there was probably three or four deputies, and people like Howard were critical.”

Supervisor Denny Stevenson speaks to Howard Holdefer's family during a dedication ceremony May 13 at the city park in Reasnor.

If the sheriff and deputies needed help, reserve deputies like Holdefer were the people they relied on the most.

“I think the big thing is we never forget,” Stevenson said. “When the sheriff brought to the board the naming of the bridge, that was a great idea. Maybe it should have been done sooner, but at least it’s done now. Hopefully that will speak to people in the future, too.”

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig

Christopher Braunschweig has a strong passion for community journalism and covers city council, school board, politics and general news in Newton, Iowa and Jasper County.