Lynda Holler, author of “My Name is Kenny I Can’t Talk,” is The Patton College of Education’s January Alum of the Month.
Holler began writing the book during her late husband’s 21-year battle with oral cancer. She interviewed 207 people close to him, focusing on the impact the former firefighter made on others’ lives. Since Kenny couldn’t speak, she allowed their words to tell his story.
“At one point, about a quarter of the way into the interviews, I started getting this very heavy feeling that this material was really important, and I needed to do something very important with it,” said Holler.
She also realized Kenny had no idea of the lasting effect he was having on people.
“None of us do,” Holler continued. “We all make an impact on the people in our lives, and that impact ripples out far beyond our own circles. But we can have no idea of where those ripples are going.”
Holler’s marriage brought lessons about community, vulnerability, selflessness, and the value of suffering. They were only married for eight months when he found out he had cancer.
“Kenny was accepting of his suffering and did not complain or drag others down. People were greatly impacted, and I was a witness to it, which inspired me to write my book,” said Holler.
Her own story started in her hometown of Cattaraugus, NY, a small town about 100 miles south of Buffalo. There, she applied to Ohio University’s Fashion Design and Merchandising program.
With a New York City internship at Murjani International, the parent company of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Tommy Hilfiger, under her belt, Holler graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Home Economics (now Human and Consumer Sciences) in 1982.
The next step in Holler’s fashion merchandising career was an entry-level position at Halston in New York City. She grew to become head of the sample room, making clothes for fashion shows and celebrities, alongside 40 skilled dressmakers and tailors.
Holler found a passion within the sweater industry after working with the Halston brand.
“The majority of my career was as a sweater designer for private-label distribution,” she said. “I traveled to many countries in Asia and worked with factories there to get the creativity and quality that our customers desired.”
Following her husband’s diagnosis with oral cancer, Holler switched her career path to work with computer graphics and writing project-based learning curriculums for schools.
Now, she works for her local Catholic parish in Brewster, NY, as the director of discipleship. She finds that it is “a very good fit, based on the path that my life has taken outside my career.”
Since her husband’s death, Holler has been an advocate against the potential adoption of physician-assisted suicide legislation in New York. She has written articles for newspapers, met with legislators, and spoken at a New York State Assembly Health Committee hearing in New York City.
“It was through our suffering that our family grew closer to God, to one another, to our communities, and came to more deeply understand the meaning of life,” said Holler.
When reflecting on her time at Ohio University, Holler is thankful for the friendships she made and the well-rounded education she received. Her two favorite classes were public speaking and technical writing.
“My biggest treasures from OHIO are the friendships that I made and maintained over 40 years. I still talk regularly with some of those friends and love when we can meet up and share our current lives,” she said.
Holler published “My Name is Kenny I Can’t Talk” in June 2019, and she hopes readers will find inspiration through the story of her late husband.
“I want people to read ‘My Name is Kenny I Can’t Talk’ and put themselves into the story—not just read it as Kenny’s story,” said Holler. “To consider what people might be saying about them, and how they might respond to these situations. How might they make their own world a better place by following Kenny’s model of service and suffering?”