Molly Hollar, right, with her daughter Cindy Hollar at the Wildscape renaming dedication Oct. 2, 2005. Molly Hollar will be remembered on Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. in a public memorial service. Courtesy of Ann Knudsen.
Feb. 1, 2024
A local environmental pioneer is gone but her legacy lives on in the hundreds of people whose lives she touched as well as the engaging outdoor classroom she helped create — 30 years after she spearheaded its launch.
Molly Hollar, who for decades was the driving force behind the Wildscape at Veteran’s Park in Arlington that bears her name, died earlier this month at her home at Trinity Terrace in Fort Worth. She was 95.
Molly Hollar with a group of volunteers at the Wildscape in 1998. Courtesy of Ann Knudsen.
In 1994, Hollar was 66 years old when she took on the project that would become her masterpiece.
She had agreed to help her cohort Julia Burgen of the Arlington Conservation Council start a “wildscape,” part of the back-to-native plant movement that had a niche following in Texas. She made a three-year commitment — just to get it off the ground.
John Davis, now retired from Texas Parks and Wildlife, met Hollar the year they were getting the Wildscape started.
Davis had just been hired in a newly created position — urban wildlife biologist for the DFW area. The Texas Wildscapes certification program was brand new and TPWD had offered grants to generate interest in the program.
Molly Hollar, John Davis, then of TPWD, and landscape designer Rosa Finsley in 2006. Courtesy of John Davis.
“Our mission was to work with any and all partners to create, restore, enhance habitat and in any kind of niche where we could find it, and then to create a network of relationships with conservation-minded people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” said Davis, recently by phone.
His superviser had told him a woman named Molly Hollar would be dropping by. She needed some slides for a presentation.
Davis said he had just finished organizing and labeling the department’s thousands of photos of wildlife and habitats as one of his first tasks on the job.
“So there's this big filing cabinet full of slides and I had just spent a month going through every slide — detailing them and logging them in. And so my supervisor tells me, you're going to meet this woman, Molly Hollar. And she's going to need imagery from habitat projects. He said, “Let her take whatever she wants.’”
“And I remember thinking to myself — I just organized every slide in this big giant bank of slides. I'll determine if I'm going to let go of the slides,” said Davis, now with a chuckle. “And then Molly walked in and within a matter of minutes, I knew I was going to let her take whatever slide she wants.”
Hollar took to him too. And from then on, Davis served as the unofficial advisor to the Wildscape.
“And so very quickly, I just knew, I love this lady. And I want to work with her as much as possible.”
The original Wildscape ribbon cutting April 23, 1995. Fom left, Molly Hollar; Julia Burgen; Ray Whitney of TPWD; Pete Jamieson, Arlington Parks & Recreation Department; Debbie Simek; and Gayla Stephenson. Courtesy of Ann Knudsen.
To his surprise, over the next 25 years, under Molly’s guiding care, the Wildscape grew from a half-acre demonstration garden to five acres that now includes a wooded trail, a riparian ecosystem, a compost demonstration area and signage throughout extolling environmental lessons.
In 2005, the Wildscape was officially named the Molly Hollar Wildscape, in recognition of her impact.
“Never in a million years would I have dreamed on that that day when I met her that this would still be going on some 30 years later,” Davis said this week.
Similiar projects that had received the original grant money fell by the wayside. Meanwhile, Davis watched in amazement as the Wildscape flourished.
“I have to say that of all of the projects in my career that I worked on in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Molly Hollar Wildscape is the strongest and most enduring of any of them. It's still going on. And it's still strong.”
Members of the Arlington Conservation Council and Arlington Organic Garden Club founded the Wildscape in 1994 on one-half acre in Veteran's Park in Arlington. It grew to encompass five acres. Photo by Julie Thibodeaux.
WEST TEXAS ROOTS
So who was this petite good-natured woman who could cultivate volunteers as well as she could cultivate plants?
Hollar, née Pinkston, was born in Lubbock in 1928. She met her husband James Hollar at Texas Tech and they moved to Borger, where their six children were born.
Her middle daughter Susan Hollar of Arlington remembers growing up in the small Panhandle town and following her mom around outside.
“She prefered being outside and she created some amazing yards when we were little,” said Susan, remembering a huge sandbox shaded by a mulberry tree.
Molly had a green thumb, whether it was garden beds or house plants.
“I think my mother was somehow connected to that cosmic universal Nature,” said Susan.
Molly Hollar mentors a new generation of volunteers June 1, 2002. Courtesy of Ann Knudsen.
At college, Molly had been discouraged from pursuing a career in architecture because it was considered a man's field. Instead, she studied child development. But over the years, she honed her skills in landscape design.
Perhaps because of her West Texas upbringing, she understood water was precious. She was an early adopter of drought-tolerant plants.
“She always said water was going to be a problem in the future,” said Susan. “People needed to use less water.”
In the mid-1990s, her children were grown, her mother had died and she was going through a divorce. Susan said it was a challenging time in her life, but her mom was one to make lemonade out of lemons.
“She just rolled with it. She always looked at things from the bright side.”
The original Texas Wildscapes certification sign still stands. Photo by Julie Thibodeaux.
So when the Wildscape project came up, she embraced her new undertaking. She began spending every day at Veteran’s Park watering and weeding, many hours a day, even in the hot sun.
“If we wanted to spend time with her, we’d have to go out and see her at the Wildscape,” Susan joked.
Tinkering around in the Wildscape gardens made her happy and she confided to others: “I would have paid to work there!”
Molly kept the pace going through the years. When she was into her 80s, you could still find her working in her jeans, rolling a wheelbarrow up the hill.
According to her daughter, she owed her good health in part to being a nutrition buff who made her own yogurt, ate wheat germ biscuits and avoided sweets.
With her slim figure and ever-present gray pony tail, she resembled Jane Goodall.
In fact, Susan said she and her mother attended a benefit for Jane Goodall, when she came to DFW. Susan believes a few guests likely mistook Molly for the famous conservationist.
“There were about eight people following her around,” she said, with a chuckle. “I think they thought she was Jane.”
PASSING THE BATON
Molly Hollar enjoys native wildscaping in her backyard in Arlington in 2001. Courtesy of John Davis.
Like Goodall, Hollar was a gentle but tenacious leader. She oversaw a steady stream of volunteers who helped keep the garden in tip-top shape and host field days for Arlington students.
“She brought out the best in people always,” said Susan.
Molly was always quick to credit others for the enterprise's success. When she learned they were going to name the Wildscape after her, she thought they were joking and had a hearty laugh, according to Ann Knudsen, a longtime Wildscape volunteer.
Molly teared up when she learned it was no joke.
“It should be named after all the volunteers,” she said.
As Molly approached her 90s, she was laid up with health issues that kept her from working outside for several weeks. After defying the aging process for so many years, she knew it was time to turn the reins over to someone else.
She began to mentor Knudsen, a Texas master naturalist and member of the Texas Native Plant Society and Arlington Conservation Council, to take over. Which Knudsen did in 2019.
Like Davis, Knudsen had met Molly back when the Wildscape was just getting started.
“She’s the one that got me started on landscaping with native plants,” said Knudsen. “My life would have been totally different if I hadn’t met her.”
At the time they met, Molly was helping start a courtyard habitat at Knudsen's daughter's school.
After Knudsen’s children were grown, Knudsen began helping out at the Wildscape.
“You want to do things for her just because she’s so positive and makes you feel so important,” she said. “She did that to everybody.”
Knudsen said one of the most important things to Molly was teaching others.
“She really wanted people to understand the importance of native plants,” Knudsen said. “She’s inspired so many people and convinced so many to become stewards of their land. So I mean, her influence — it's just spread so far.”
Molly Hollar talks about native plants to kids at the Wildscape in 2017. Courtesy of Facebook.
Molly Hollar Celebration of Life
About: A memorial service will be held to celebrate the life of Molly Hollar. All are welcome. Dress casually.
When: Feb. 3, 2 p.m.
Where: Meadowbrook Recreation Center, 1400 Dugan, Arlington.
Donations: In lieu of flowers, the family requests, donations be made to Friends of the Molly Hollar Wildscape, 1015 Glenwick Ln, Arlington, TX 76012. Donate online at Friends of the Molly Hollar Wildscape.
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