Person of the Year: Shelley Holley

Lifelong learning is more often than not driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a desire to share that intelligence with others along the way. When we are lucky enough, sometimes, the paths of our lives intertwine with paths of those who value and thrive on wisdom. From there, we learn, grow and are forever changed. Such exceptional individuals’ lives closely resemble that of a chapter book full of lessons, challenges, journeys and stories that motivate us to be better while working to better those around us. These books are the ones we remember, relate to and draw insight from, as they give us glimpses into who the characters are, where they came from and where they are going. Every page of each chapter allows us to fully appreciate the impact a character has on others. The individuals who serve as leading, memorable characters in such books are often built upon the values of hard work, determination, faith, family, stewardship and compassion. 

While Frisco’s book is still being written, chapter-by-chapter, another story is being scripted along side it — one that is helping shape the main character, the city she’s impacted and the ones who call it home. 

Shelley Holley, Frisco STYLE 2019 Person of the Year, is Frisco’s own version of a main character who has beautifully navigated her own story, while simultaneously impacting the lives of countless citizens through her work as the Frisco Public Library’s library director.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Holley has not only grown immensely both personally and professionally, but she has managed to become an integral and influential part of our community through her work with the innovative local library. Mrs. Holley’s hard work, stewardship, leadership and vision are truly incredible. Though Mrs. Holley and her husband, Robbin, have built most of their lives here in Frisco, her journey began as an “almost” Texan in chapter one of her book. 

Mrs. Holley was born to Jolene Wright and Don Hansen who, following their nuptials, moved to El Paso, where they lived while Mr. Hansen was stationed at Fort Bliss. He completed his service a month before she was born and they moved to Boston. “Had I been born a few weeks earlier, or if my parents stayed in Texas a few weeks longer, I would have started out as a Texan. Instead, it took me 30 years to get back to Texas!” she explains. 

Mrs. Holley is the oldest of three children – a sister, Karla, who is a couple of years younger, a brother, Michael, who is 13 years younger and four Navajo “almost” siblings (more about that later). “My father’s work and school kept us moving every year or two most of my childhood. Over the years, I have lived in Mass., Minn., Utah, Ariz., Calif., Idaho, Ohio, Md., East Texas and North Texas. I was extremely shy as a child, which made the moves challenging, at times,” Mrs. Holley recalls. “Moving often meant lots of new people, finding new friends, adjusting to new schools, exploring new places and discovering what made all those people and places special. Since this was before the age of social media, texting or even email, it also meant a lot of goodbyes. Moving to new places was exciting but leaving behind people and places I had grown to love was difficult.” 

During her childhood, Mrs. Holley’s father decided to go back to school. “Of all the places his prior job had taken us, he enjoyed the fast-growing city of San Diego the most. I am pretty sure it was the weather! He worked for the City of San Diego managing economic and community development programs,” Mrs. Holley shares. Her mother worked as a secretary to support the family while her father was in school, and she eventually went on to run her own word processing business from home. She did work for a range of professional clients, as well as graduate students by typing their theses and dissertations.

Of her parents and her childhood, Mrs. Holley looks back with an understanding of how blessed she was. She shares, “My parents were amazing examples of Christian devotion, hard work and teamwork. I never heard them raise their voices at each other in anger (really)! Since parental peace at home was the norm from my experience, I assumed everyone’s home was the same. I did not realize just how remarkable my parents were until I got older. I remember telling a co-worker about how my parents had handled a particularly stressful situation, and he exclaimed, ‘Where did you grow up, Disneyland?’ Perhaps I did. As an adult, I have had many people tell me about the kindness, helping hand or assistance my father or mother provided in their lives. They seemed to always know when a helping hand was most needed. At the time, I had never known, and frankly would never have known, if it were not for others telling me. It would never occur to either of my parents to mention anything like that. They quietly went about doing the right thing, making a difference for others and never speaking of it. They taught by example.” 

Mr. Holley believes Mrs. Holley’s parents ultimately helped shape her. “Something that is important for people to realize about Shelley is how good her parents are,” he shares. “We often use the term ‘salt of the earth’ to describe people who work tirelessly for the good of others without calling attention to themselves. That is an operational definition of Shelley’s parents … and it also applies to Shelley.”

Her parents’ generosity and concern for others served as the catalyst to the family gaining four host children throughout the years who would become like family. “We participated in a program that let us host Navajo school-aged students from the reservation for the school year. It provided an opportunity for them to avoid boarding schools, go to better schools and live in a family setting. They would come at the beginning of each school year and then go back home for the summers. Over the years, we had four students live with us, three of whom graduated. They all keep in touch. Our family photos from those years include them, and they were an important part of our family,” Mrs. Holley shares.

After graduating from high school, Mrs. Holley went on to a small college in Idaho for a couple of semesters before transferring to Brigham Young University (BYU). “It was at BYU that I found my first job working at a library. I worked at the university library’s local history and genealogy reference desk. It was such a pleasure to help people look for their ‘roots’ and seeing their excitement when they found a record with their ancestor’s name or information,” she remembers. 

As a college student, Mrs. Holley was able to participate in a study abroad program and took classes at the University of Florence in Italy. “Being a college student at a foreign university was exciting. The time I spent in Italy changed my perspective and I began to appreciate the world from a different point of view. I loved traveling and still do,” she says. 

While in college, Mrs. Holley met and married her husband. In true storybook fashion, Mr. and Mrs. Holley, ironically enough, first met in a library. Mr. Holley recalls, “I was going to go study in a back corner of the BYU library when I saw two of my roommates talking to a woman and I approached the three of them. I was impressed by her intelligent enthusiasm for life. I was impressed by her manifest joyfulness. I saw her on campus a day or two later and made it a point to strike up a conversation with her … and subsequently asked her out on a date. I was again impressed by her enthusiasm for life, but also for her sensitivity towards others and their feelings and circumstances. We started dating seriously and I never dated anyone else after I met her. We were married about a year after we first met.” 

The Holleys went on to have two sons, Matthew and David, and money was tight as they both worked different jobs to stay afloat. Mrs. Holley explains, “While he was in graduate school, we started a small business cleaning the local movie theater complex and a local law office. Since movie theaters never close, we worked seven days a week, and would usually start late at night after the last movie ended or very early the next morning before school or other jobs began. It was during this time I learned to appreciate work and the satisfaction of a job well-done, even if it was a menial one. I learned that the secret to enjoying life was finding pleasure or at least satisfaction in day-to-day things.” Mr. Holley eventually completed his graduate work, joined the Navy and worked as a therapist stationed at Bethesda Naval Hospital. After the Navy, the family moved back to Texas, settling first in Lufkin, then moving to Frisco in 1999. 

Matthew and David both went on to graduate from Frisco High School then went on two-year missions for their church. Since then, they both married remarkable women who Mrs. Holley is delighted to have as daughters. “Thanks to my sons and daughters-in-law, I now have one of the best gigs ever – being a grandma! I have three grandsons, two granddaughters and another grandchild on the way. Matthew and his family live in Utah, where he owns and runs a specialty sporting goods business, and David graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch and now works at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz.,” she explains.

Ultimately, after their move back to Texas, Mrs. Holley picked up her work in libraries again and worked as the children’s librarian in Lufkin. “It was while I was in Lufkin that I realized what a difference the public library could make,” she remembers. “The library is a natural partner to help government and local officials build a successful community. In fact, the problems mayors and city managers worry about are many of the same problems libraries were created to help solve. Elected officials worry about poverty, unemployment, public safety, etc. The library offered solutions to those problems and so many more. Libraries offer workforce development skills training for the unemployed and under-employed, support school success for students through homework and reading help, offer lifelong self-paced educational opportunities and opportunities that help new residents assimilate into the community through shared interest programs. Also offered are ESL programs for those who are learning English, low-cost alternatives for those on a fixed income, reading, hands-on learning and social opportunities for all ages. Libraries provide a safe place for members of the community to gather.” 

It was when she accepted a job as the children’s librarian and her family moved to Frisco that Mrs. Holley truly realized Frisco was no ordinary community. “Residents were engaged and actively building a remarkable city. It has been a blessing in my life to work for the library, first as the children’s librarian and now as the library director,” she says. “Frisco is an aspirational community and we try to reflect that in the types of services we offer at the library.” 

The Frisco Public Library is as innovative as the city – in the business of sharing knowledge in lots of ways. Mrs. Holley continues, “The mission of our library is to enrich lives through inspiring intellect, curiosity and imagination. What a wonderful business to be in! I am fortunate to work with a team that believes in libraries and in pushing library services forward. We offer a lot of services that are not typical for most libraries but are a perfect fit for Frisco. When I get the opportunity to speak to community groups, they are always surprised by all the services their library offers. Things like book publishing, maker kits, online and in-person classes on nearly any subject you can think of, high-quality children’s programs, 3D printers, laser cutters and the support we offer for entrepreneurs. We have a great team that supports our mission and the positive development of Frisco. That team includes the hardest working library staff I have ever known, the Friends of the Library and Library Board, the Mayor and City Council, city executives and, of course, Frisco’s remarkable residents.”

Of her life’s work, Mrs. Holley is immeasurably proud of many accomplishments along the way, of which include her husband, children and their families, the Frisco Public Library and the staff that has worked so hard to make it one of the most remarkable libraries in Texas. She is proud to have graduated as a member of Leadership Frisco Class 19 and their project “The Ready to Read Railroad,” which offers activities that prepare young children for success in kindergarten (one of the first of its kind in the U.S.). Mrs. Holley loves being part of the team that built the Frisco Heritage Museum, serving as president of the Public Library Administrators of North Texas association and being the president of the Texas Municipal Library Directors Association (both organizations work to improve libraries and library services in Texas). She served as a member of the team that designed and built the new location of the Kurth Memorial Library in Lufkin, Texas, in the 1990s, returned to school to earn her master’s degree and received the 2018 Mayor’s Award from Mayor Jeff Cheney. 

Mrs. Holley’s son, David, describes his mother as a true Renaissance woman who is always learning, growing and in-the-know. “More than just knowing information, she is excited to share, implement and utilize it. I have memory after memory of two different scenarios occurring. First, sharing a discovery from any field that was learned that day followed by explanations of discoveries and applications. Second, searching for answers to questions. Whenever a good question was asked that no immediate answer was available for, she would always search it out. At home, that would mean she would excuse herself to the office to our handy encyclopedias or the Internet and come back moments later full of answers. She is not one to rest on her laurels. She keeps on learning and going. It inspires me to follow the same course – to take time to grow and learn at least a little every day,” he shares.

Anyone who knows Mrs. Holley will tell you of her love for helping others learn and grow, which she has been able to do through her career in the library. Mr. Holley says, “The idea that describes her, for me, is an untiring, unrelenting pursuit of quality. She is passionate about doing things well and knowing things as completely as possible. Throughout her years serving as the library director and children’s librarian, I believe she has developed a broader and richer appreciation for the role of literacy in a person’s life. One thing (of the many things) she has taught me is that no single skill is more important for success in life than being able to read … and read well. Her argument is that once you know how to read, then you can teach yourself other things you need to know. She believes libraries have an irreplaceable place as repositories of our learning, insight and resources.” 

Mrs. Holley’s son, Matthew, strongly agrees and says he most looks up to his mom for her incredible focus and attention she pays to every facet of a job or project. He explains, “My mother is incredibly focused on whatever task is necessary. Her standards are high and it makes everyone around her bring their ‘A Game’ to any project. She has worked relentlessly and tirelessly to advance the cause of the public library in Frisco, and she is constantly trying to adapt programs to needs of the community and make sure people know the library is there for so many more things than just to check out a book to read.” Matthew looks back and remembers when Internet for the general public felt like a new and weird concept. Mrs. Holley made sure the library was a resource for people to come and learn about this critically-important new information source. He continues, “I am always thoroughly impressed by how efficiently the library seeks to use the resources it is provided to maximize the impact it has on helping the community. In our general conversations about her work, I am constantly taken aback by how aggressively she pushes the library to efficiently allocate resources and pivot to take on needs of the community. Frisco is tremendously lucky to have a library that is so focused on the needs of the local people and so ready to adapt. I have lived in plenty of places where the city library was an afterthought, but in Frisco, people know they have a modern library that enhances the city.” 

Matthew believes others can learn the value of focus and diving deep into any project from Mrs. Holley, along with the value of always seeking to gather new information and to re-examine decisions. He says, “She taught me the importance of respecting other people while still making sure to respectfully stand firm in what you know and choosing to make the right decisions based on that knowledge. And, maybe, most importantly, to acknowledge where the limits of your knowledge and experience are and being willing to readily admit when you have reached those points.” 

Mr. Holley is proud of his wife’s impact on our community and attributes much of that impact to her love of reading and learning, which, he believes, has energized her leadership and prompted her to strive to make the library relevant to today’s patrons. “On a personal level, I know a person I met here in the metroplex was part of the Lufkin Summer Reading Programs when she was younger and we lived in Lufkin. She spoke fondly of how my wife’s enthusiasm and love for reading encouraged her to read more. She spoke about how much involvement in the summer reading program meant to her growing up, and I think similar things could be said about Frisco,” Mr. Holley says. 

When asked what Mrs. Holley loves most about Frisco, she enthusiastically replies, “The possibilities! Together, we are creating a wonderful and unique community. How many places can say that? I remember in the early years of the storytelling festival being told by David Novak, a guest storyteller from another state, that he really enjoyed being here. He said, ‘I had forgotten what optimism felt like until I came here.’ I have never forgotten his words, and he is right! Frisco is filled with optimism and filled with ‘can do’ people building something really special. I hope the library can be a point of pride for the city and that it continues to have a positive impact on the community that uses it.” 

In her free time, Mrs. Holley loves traveling, which often includes visiting other libraries. “I love seeing what other libraries are doing. There is so much inspiration out there. When we were in Cambodia a few years back, I even made sure to visit the ancient libraries among the ruins in Angkor Wat and Banteay Srei,” she recalls. Her other hobbies include genealogy, home remodeling, art, architecture, gardening and crocheting toys and blankets. Mr. Holley adds that they love to visit their grandchildren. 

Mrs. Holley’s legacy continues to grow within the walls of Frisco’s incredible library, where she is not only able to help others learn and grow, but to continuously grow herself. Mrs. Holley admits she has the best job in Frisco as the director of the public library and thinks she has been privileged to grow with it throughout the years. So many chapters of Mrs. Holley’s book have been beautifully scripted and artfully illustrated … and we cannot wait to see how the next chapter unfolds.

Allie Spletter
Allie Spletter is a wannabe foodie and lover of all things pink and crafty.