Beloved founder of Helpline House passes away

Behind every great organization are great people. Bainbridge Island is fortunate to have many who step up to help those in need.

This week Bainbridge Island lost one such person, who left her time at the Helpline House, and journeyed to her father’s house.

Joan Lindall Holcomb passed away in her sleep near Frederick, Md. last week. She was 78.

Holcomb passed peacefully in the midst of her favorite season.

“Christmas was a really big deal,” said her son, Matt Holcomb. “She spent a lot of time cooking. It was great when we were kids.”

Helpline House began in 1968 as “Fishline” a charity effort organized by local churches to provide food and other services to islanders in need. By 1973 the effort had grown into the Helpline House and began expanding its social services. Today the nonprofit draws 116 volunteers and offers a variety of social services.

In the beginning there were those who created the foundation for what would become the Helpline House, but few could be said to be as influential as Holcomb.

“She was the founding director,” said Myra Howrey, office manager of Helpline House. “It was her vision to start out with. She got some help from some church ladies and they went from there.”

Holcomb was an ideal person to get the ball rolling. She came from Minnesota with a degree in social services. Something she could make good use of with her rather humble roots, growing up in Parkers Prairie, Minn.

“She was a Scandinavian farm girl; she was proud of that,” Matt said. “She grew up on a farm and she had a good grounding in that. Her whole purpose in life was to go help people. Nothing stopped her from that.”

Life on the farm proved to be good training for a life of helping people.

“She learned how to deal with people by dealing with farm cats,” Matt said, laughing about how his mother went from tending to farm cats to caring for people.

“My mother did not die wealthy in money, but she did some stuff. She really did,” he said. “She devoted her life for 30 years to Helpline House.”

“She was a welcoming person to everyone who walked through the door,” said Willa Fischer, a former health officer at the Kitsap County Department of Health.

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