Colonnade Article Interview (2012)
Colonnade Article Interview (2013)
Valdosta Today Article (2014)
Iona Holder likes to take every day one single step at a time. This isn’t easy when one is a teacher, student, mother, wife, business owner and an over-involved community member.
Raising five kids with a mixed family and managing countless organizations, the just turned 40-year-old has a lot going for her, and she said she’s just getting started.
“I am of the complete belief if you expect more, you will achieve more.”
One would think the devoted Milledgevillian had lived in the tiny middle Georgia town her whole life. She’s involved in over 20 different local organizations, a graduate of Georgia College, founder of the local festival Deep Roots and owner of a downtown coffee shop- Blackbird Café. However, it is quite the opposite. Holder wasn’t even born in America.
Originally from Germany, it took more than a few years for Holder to find Milledgeville. She was born in Germany, grew up in Colorado, attended high school in Augusta, Ga., and finally ended up in Milledgeville.
“I’m from all over, but now Milledgeville is my home town,” she said.
It didn’t necessarily begin this way though. Holder, similar to many other students, came to GC to eventually transfer to University of Georgia. However, once she found Georgia College, her heart was full. She loved the town, the college and everything that accompanied the small town college life. Attending Georgia College was a huge milestone in Holder’s life, but years later an even bigger opportunity would present itself- teaching at her alma mater.
“The teaching was never about just teaching and getting a job done, or taking a test or memorizing facts. It was about inspiring somebody to think beyond what they thought,” Holder said.
When the chair of the GC theatre department, Karen Berman, presented the idea to Holder, she immediately said no. She wasn’t interested in teaching, plus she didn’t have the experience or the tools to even know where to start. But a witty conversation with Berman changed her mind.
“She asked me if I wanted to come share my ideas, and I said yeah, I definitely would like to do that.” Holder said, “Then she was like well would you want to do it two times a week, maybe? And I told her yeah, I guess I can do that. She said well then you come do that. You call it sharing, I call it teaching… So I kind of got tricked into teaching initially… One class became two classes and so on.”
Now a teacher and student of Georgia College, Holder felt immersed in the community. But something was missing. Having been in Milledgeville for over 20 years, Holder had seen the ins and outs of all the small businesses to run through the tiny, two blocks of homegrown downtown Milledgeville. She decided Milledgeville needed something new.
“We would leave the movies or after dinner, and we would say I don’t want to stay here, but I don’t want to go home yet,” Holder said. “I wish there was somewhere we could just sit and talk.”
And then it hit her – a coffee shop, a good-vibes café with local artists and live music, every hipster college kid’s dream. After wrestling with countless names and ideas – like “The Copy Bean,” a paper copy hub and coffee shop – Holder and her business partners, thankfully, decided on Blackbird Café.
She chuckled, “We were all sitting around one day, and we were like you know what this town needs? A coffee shop. But we didn’t know the first thing about coffee.”
The ten-year anniversary of Blackbird is on Dec. 8. This didn’t come easy though. It took weeks without a paycheck for herself and her associates, while working the front counters and managing, and countless weeks of wondering.
“There were days where I would say, let’s just close this, we can’t do this.” Holder said.
Eventually, things began looking up. “It became more of how to we want to grow this into what we want it be, instead of just keeping our heads above water,” she said.
Holder followed her dreams and created a business she was proud of. Every detail of Blackbird Café was thought out to a T, down to the paint color in the skylight.
“That paint color is called ‘The Good Life,’” Holder said, “and I wanted that to shine down into the store.”
With a booming café adding new and exciting menu items as well as local art, Holder looks forward to the future of Blackbird, but remembers her past and encourages those who want to follow their dreams of opening a business with caution.
“Make sure that it’s something you’re passionate about, and imagine having to do it for free for two years,” she added. “More realistically for five years.”
Despite the turmoil and troubles, Holder still adores her little café. She said, “[Blackbird] has been a journey that was just incredibly rewarding.”
Holder also embarked on multiple business ventures in downtown Milledgeville, including founding the bar Buffingtons with her brother. She no longer holds a stake in the companies, but she takes pride in what the restaurant has become.
Founding a successful restaurant can sometimes take an entire lifetime. Holder has created two. Since 2002. All the while she was directing, co-directing, writing, consulting and assisting in more than 30 plays across Georgia, most of which were performed at GC.
“I was able to blossom and Karen [Berman] continued to allow me the multitude of opportunities and I will be forever grateful to her,” Holder said.
Her students and mentees are where her legacy at the GC theatre lie. Taylor Hembree, junior mass communication major, said “Iona really takes time to learn how each performer ticks and what makes them think and perform well, she uses this to adapt her teachings to each different person, making every single actor a star of the show.”
Holder graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theatre, a master’s in public administration and is currently in school to receive her MFA in creative writing.
“My perspective is now more of ‘I only have this much more time learn to learn everything’,” she said. “Instead of like, ‘oh god I still have two more years left.’”
Her original intentions were to perform and direct, but because of the courses in creative writing at GC, she found herself loving the writing process.
“I’ve always been terrified of it,” she said. “Which is why I wanted to start there.”
Holder continues to assist and write plays when she’s not busy with her extracurricular involvements. Currently she is an advisory board member for Art As An Agent for Change, an executive board member for the Milledgeville Players and the Mainstage Hospitality coordinator for, and founder of, the Deep Roots Festival.
“I was able to see the community from a multitude of perspectives, and it helped to appreciate Milledgeville and everything it has to offer so much more,” she commented on being so involved.
Deep Roots has undoubtedly been one of her greatest accomplishments. Herself, her husband Jimmy Holder and another couple founded the festival on nothing short of good intentions. “We were all good friends and we just wanted to make Milledgeville better,” she added.
Her husband handles a lot of the design aesthetic, while Holder prefers to assist with her first true love, the performances, but one of her favorite parts about Deep Roots is working with her husband. She said it keeps her happy and entertained.
“Well he’s actually colorblind,” Holder said with a laugh. “He designs all these great things and sometimes I have be like ‘hey, that’s actually purple.’”
Iona Holder’s story speaks for itself. She’s a woman with a big heart and big dreams.
Her husband Jimmy Holder said, “Iona wants a better world. She consistently invests time in people in efforts to help them reach a better self. She is a wonderful woman and I am a better man for it.”
Her accomplishments outweigh her tough times by a long shot, “I don’t think there is any way I thought this was where I would be at 40, but I feel really grateful. Not only that this is where I am, but just everything,” she said.
Holder still embraces the small town of Milledgeville and intends to continue devoting herself to her town while still enjoying her every second.
“I’m aware of the horizon,” she said. “But I like staying right here.”