HUNTINGTON - Maya Angelou said if you are going to live, leave a legacy - a mark on the world that cannot be erased.

By keeping her heart open to opportunity, hard work and being true to herself, Linda Holmes has already left a mark on Marshall University - and she's not done yet.

In April, the Marshall Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine opened the Linda S. Holmes Student Wellness Center on Hal Greer Boulevard. The center is designed to provide a safe, convenient relaxation space for medical students when they need to take a break from studying to relax and decompress.

Holmes, the director of development and alumni affairs at the School of Medicine, said she never expected donors Dr. Mark and Monica Hatfield to name the center after her but said she is beyond humbled.

"Knowing what kind of great people they are, it's something that is not surprising that they would do," Holmes said. "For them to honor me, for them to say because you've been a difference maker, we want to do this for you, it made me happy, but I'll tell you who it made more happy - my mother was floating on cloud nine. She was so happy and thrilled about that. What an honor.

"You don't really think it's real until you drive by there and you see your name."

The center epitomizes how Holmes tries to live her life.

"Mental and physical wellness is so important to me personally," she said. "One of the things during orientation for any of our medical students entering, it is impressed upon them repeatedly the necessity to take care of yourself mentally and physically because the demands are great. This is a sanctuary for them to come over and relax, shoot a game of pool, watch videos, throw darts and just find themselves in a small mecca to just relax and try and decompress a little bit."

Growing up in Winfield, West Virginia, Holmes and her family were always active. Her father was a West Virginia University basketball player and Holmes' early life was spent watching her dad play ball in Morgantown. When they moved back to Winfield, her dad continued to play in basketball leagues and his three daughters inherited the athletic bug, spending their free time swimming, biking, riding horses, and playing baseball, volleyball and tennis.

"It continues to be a big part of my mother's life and my two sisters', so it was definitely infused in the DNA," she said.

But Holmes grew up before Title IX, meaning there weren't very many organized sports for her to play, including basketball, so instead she was a cheerleader.

"I always think I was born about 50 years too early," Holmes said. "I would have been doing all kinds of things. There were no women's sports. You either cheered, were a majorette or in the band, or you did nothing."

Despite her dad's WVU loyalty, Holmes decided Marshall was a better fit for her. It was closer to home - but not too close - and she had her dad's support. She also was able to play volleyball for the university, though the opportunity didn't come with a scholarship.

After finishing her undergraduate degree and a master's, Holmes was hired in the fall of 1976 as the associate athletic director and volleyball and softball coach.

She worked with a shoestring budget, getting up early to drive her teams to games, coaching then driving them back home.

"You just think, 'Oh, my goodness, how did we get back?'" she said. "I would always make one of my managers or players stay awake to keep me awake. I see how they travel now and how the conferences have developed. It's really good."

In the summer of 1984, she left athletics to take over as director of alumni relations for the university, a position for which she felt her personality and skills would translate well to benefit the university. She stayed until her current position came available in 1998, doing a similar thing but with more of a focus.

"It's been a fab journey for me," she said.

Holmes said she loves Marshall and Marshall has loved her back, giving her the opportunity to travel and meet new people. She said she hopes she's made the university a better place.

She had help along the way. Dorothy "Dot" Hicks, the pioneer of women's sports at Marshall, calls herself Holmes' second mom and helped open doors for young Holmes. The late Bernard Queen, a dean of the College of Education, first hired Holmes and mentored her.

"The thing about being a mentor, sometimes you don't even know you are mentoring people," she said. "It's how you do your daily routine and activities. The touches you make, you just don't know how that affects people, so you just always have to be positive and try to do that the best way you can."

But it was her inherent gifts that have allowed Holmes to excel.

"I've never met a stranger," she said. "The gift of gab came naturally."

That gift is what enables her to do her job of engaging alumni. She likes to connect one-on-one with people to find out their interests to find ways they can help the university the most, whether it's providing mentorship to residents or funding a scholarship.

Over the years, social media has changed how she does her job, she said, in good and bad ways. While it's easier than ever to share a message and people are never disconnected, people still don't respond or really engage. But when they do get the message, Holmes said it's easier to get them to re-engage because they feel they already have a personal connection.

When Holmes is not working, she is active in some other activity. A self-proclaimed gym rat, she starts every day at the gym.

"The MU Rec and I are best buds," she said. "I always make working out a part of my schedule. Without your wellness and health, what is there for you?"

She loves to dance and teaches line dancing classes at the Woodlands Retirement Community, though she said she prefers learning to teaching. She also loves working in her yard - cutting grass, planting flowers, etc. - and cooking and baking.

"My grandmother loved to bake and my mother, great cook," she said. "When I have time, I love hosting people at the house, setting my table. It's shameful how many sets of dishes I have. I have my mother's, my grandmother's. I will be an estate doer's dream whenever the time comes."

She's also active in the community. She is the chairwoman of the athletic Hall of Fame committee. She is a member of the Huntington Rotary Club and was the first female president, paving the way for many other female presidents. She is a Huntington Museum of Art trustee.

"I try to give back to the community that has given so much to me in the best way I can," she said.

Holmes is technically at retirement age, but as she said, she doesn't act her age anyway and she loves her life, so why stop now?

Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.


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