Q&A: Holly Johnson


Holly Johnson. Courtesy Frey Foundation

Editor’s note: Each Q&A in the Influential Women enewsletter will feature a woman from the region who’s influential, a rising face in her industry or doing interesting work. Submit tips on potential Q&A subjects to tgortsema at grbj dot com.

Holly Johnson, president of the Frey Foundation, said she’s been “privileged to do well” in her career, “while also doing good.”

Johnson said her career path has allowed her to serve the communities she loves and “make connections that result in community good and help create lasting legacies that will forever have a profound effect on our region."

“I also have found that by helping others be the best version of themselves, I become a better version of me,” Johnson said.

Biggest career break?

When I has hired by Greater Ottawa County United Way to lead the Grand Haven office. It was an opportunity for me to pivot in my career and move from a volunteer role to a professional leadership role.

Proudest moment?

When I completed my master’s degree at GVSU. I went to night classes for five years, while working and raising a family.

Our two children, Madelynn and Ian, make me proud every day too! 

Best advice you’ve ever received?

Enjoy the journey and learn everything you can along the way

How did you make your first dollar?

Scooping ice cream! Growing up on the lakeshore means that lots of ice cream needs to be served to our many seasonal visitors. It is actually really hard work and sticky!

Most-treasured possession?

I try not to treasure material possessions but, rather, covet experiences. However, when we travel, I always acquire special souvenirs. So the things I have that remind me of our travels are very special to me. 

Dream job?

I think I might have it! Being invited into the Frey family to lead their foundation, help them steward their legacy and make meaningful impact in the communities they love is a privilege. … It does not get much better than that!

If you were president for a day, you would … ?

If I was POTUS for the day, I would ban all tweeting from the White House!

Last book you read?

Real Impact: The New Economics of Social Change” by Morgan Simon. It is about knitting together social finance and social justice. Philanthropy is asked to do a lot, and it will be up to us to seek new relationships with entrepreneurial approaches that will better solve our community’s critical issues. This book provides great insight to this topic.

Last search term you googled?

The farewell statement from Senator John McCain. The senator was a brave warrior, a statesman and a true hero. I am grateful for his leadership and the renewed promise that his letter instilled in me. 

Your worst habit?

Twirling my hair 

To unwind, you like to … ?

Go to our apartment in Chicago. I love cities and shorelines, and in Chicago, I can experience both within the same block. 

Dream vacation?

Anything that my husband, Erick, plans. A dream vacation is any place where we have an opportunity to immerse ourselves in something that is different from home. I also must have a stack of books with me. Real books — no electronic reader for me!

Favorite food?

We are foodies and define communities by how good the food is. But I also have an obsession with potato chips.

Person you most admire?

Not sure I can pick just one. … I admire people who are firm in their convictions but casual in defending them to others. Have your convictions, but don’t try to make others think like you.

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