A lifetime of service

By Dashiell Coleman

Holly Frederick Reynolds’ senior portrait from Brenau’s 1939 Bubbles yearbook.

Finding a passion and following where it leads. Answering the call for help when it comes. Taking action instead of just hoping for change. 

Those may sound like lofty ambitions, but at 102, Brenau alumna Holly Frederick Reynolds, WC ’39, has this advice for anyone pursuing their goals: “Go for it.” 

She knows what she’s talking about, too. She’s spent nearly her whole life making a difference — helping both people and animals along the way. 

From Brenau to a world war

Reynolds, who lives in Louisiana, is no stranger to overcoming adversity. She’s lived through two of the biggest hurricanes in the state’s history, Katrina in 2005 and Ida in 2021. 

“There’s been a lot of hurricanes in 100 years,” she mused in September. 

And she was a student at Brenau when disaster struck Gainesville on April 6, 1936. Just before 8:30 a.m. that day, three tornadoes ripped through town, killing more than 200 people, laying waste to buildings and homes and damaging campus. 

Reynolds remembers the chaos vividly. In fact, she says, a church she’d just visited had been hit. 

“When I got a chance to walk over there later, the church was gone,” she says. “And I had just left it.” 

She remembers President Franklin Roosevelt visiting Gainesville after the destruction, and she says she had to stay with family friends near Clemson, South Carolina, for a bit as the campus was cleaned and used as a shelter. 

But overall, she says she enjoyed her time at Brenau, earning a degree in sociology and physical education, and is quick to recount the great times she had living on campus, being involved in the YWCA and sitting on the steps of school buildings while singing with friends. 

“It was fun,” she says. “I enjoyed it.”

Reynolds’ pursuit of higher education didn’t stop with Brenau. After she graduated in 1939, she moved on to Louisiana State University, where she earned a master’s degree in recreation in 1941. 

A few months later, calamity struck again. On Dec. 7, Japan attacked the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Within a week, the U.S. had entered World War II. 

The American Red Cross ramped up its aid efforts at home and abroad. In Europe, the agency worked to provide relief, social and recreational opportunities for troops. After waiting a year due to her father’s death, Reynolds joined the Red Cross. 

“I was there until the war in Europe was over,” Reynolds says. 

In an oral history recorded by the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Reynolds describes planning tours to historic places, holding dances, serving meals and even sewing up service members’ uniforms as she served in the U.K. 

She fell in love in Europe, marrying a soldier from the 5th Infantry Division in 1944. But the marriage didn’t last. Reynolds and her husband got divorced shortly after the war ended. 

“We got home, and that just didn’t work out at all,” Reynolds says. “I was terribly upset about the breakup of the marriage.” 

So she went out and got a dog for the first time in her life — a black Lab mix she named Yankee Doodle Dandy because he was born on Independence Day. She credits Dandy with pulling her through the divorce. 

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me in my life because I found out how much an animal can give a person — devotion and company and love and companionship,” Reynolds says. 

She also went back to the Red Cross after the divorce, with assignments in Augusta, Georgia, and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. But, she says in the oral history interview, she ran into trouble living off quarters to stay with Dandy. When she had to choose between the job and the dog, she chose the dog. 

Their time together was fated to be short. In 1950, Dandy died at just 2 years old. But his impact would last a lifetime. 

Holly Frederick Reynolds, front center, with Brenau’s junior education club in a photo from the 1938 Bubbles yearbook.

“Right away, I wanted to do something in his honor,” Reynolds says. “And here I am 70 years later still doing things in his honor.”

Making a difference in a new way 

What better way to honor a beloved pet than to help other animals? 

In 1953, Reynolds founded what is now known as Northshore Humane Society in Covington, Louisiana. It’s still one of the state’s largest nonprofit no-kill animal organizations. 

There weren’t a lot of humane societies in Louisiana back then. 

“I was really striking out in the dark,” Reynolds says. “But I was successful, luckily.” 

And she did it all while she was working full-time at a state psychiatric hospital. After 20 years at one hospital near Covington, she took a similar job in Jackson, a suburb of Baton Rouge. A few years into the new job, she picked up the Baton Rouge newspaper one day and read that the local Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had closed. 

Louisiana’s capital city without a humane society? Holly Frederick Reynolds wasn’t about to let that happen.

“I was set to retire the following year, so I decided I’d come down here and start one,” she says. 

In 1979, Reynolds founded her second nonprofit humane organization, the Capital Area Animal Welfare Society, establishing her as one of the foremost animal welfare advocates in Louisiana. 

“It wasn’t really hard,” Reynolds says. “It just took somebody to get it started.” 

But she still wasn’t done. After building infrastructure to help animals in two Louisiana parishes, Reynolds shifted gears to policy. 

“I came to the conclusion that passing bills was an excellent way to get something accomplished,” Reynolds says. 

In 1981, she founded the nonprofit Coalition of Louisiana Animal Advocates with an eye on legislative priorities. Two years later, she worked with then-state Rep. Garey Forster to pass a law that made dogfighting a felony — Louisiana’s first dogfighting law. And in 1997, she started the Holly Frederick Reynolds Support Foundation for Animal Welfare, a nonprofit that makes yearly donations to animal welfare groups. 

It was at a Coalition meeting in 1987 that Jeff Dorson, an animal advocate who had recently moved to Louisiana, met Reynolds. She instantly left an impression. 

“She was a great lobbyist because she was active,” Dorson says. “Most people couldn’t tell you who their city council member is, who their state legislator is. She knew it all, and she would hound them to vote a certain way. She’s very effective.”  

She still is. 

Holly Frederick Reynolds, second from left, with Brenau’s senior basketball team in a 1939 Bubbles yearbook photo.

An ‘infectious’ enthusiasm 

As recently as 2018, Reynolds joined PETA to protest bird research at LSU. A profile in the Baton Rouge-area magazine inRegister describes her making calls to lawmakers from her apartment at the age of 100. And in 2020, she asked her nonprofit to set aside $5,000 to buy food for pet owners who fell on hard times during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Dorson, who now leads the Humane Society of Louisiana in New Orleans, has kept working with Reynolds over the years — most recently in a bid to get lawmakers to establish ground rules for what counts as an adequate backyard shelter for dogs.  

Earlier this year, Louisiana Rep. Barbara Reich Frieberg sponsored a state resolution commending Reynolds for her years of advocacy. In it, Dorson is quoted calling Reynolds “by far the greatest animal rights advocate in the state.” 

Dorson says he and other animal advocates in Louisiana view Reynolds as a mentor. And he says her continued devotion is an inspiration. 

“It’s infectious,” Dorson says. “It tells us that, ‘If she can, I can. If she’s leading the way at 102, surely I can pick up and help.’ And if we don’t see it that way, shame on us. We’re missing an opportunity to make a difference. She’s a real leader at every stage of her life.”

Animals are still a big part of Reynolds’ life. She’s had dogs almost continuously since Dandy died. And she credits her now-13-year-old rescue pup, a Jack Russell named Chloe, with providing her with the inspiration to recover after being struck by a car when she was 98. 

“I can’t get along without one,” she says.

When Reynolds looks back on her life, she thinks fondly of her time at Brenau. Eighty-two years later, she still has her leather-bound diploma, and she keeps a framed copy of a community service award given to her by the university in 2000 above her desk. 

Reynolds has come a long way — and has seen a lot of things — since 1939. But she’s humble about her achievements. 

“When I look back on my life,” Reynolds says, “I just can’t believe I’ve accomplished this much.” 

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