Love and War: A romance story on the Plains

Love and War: A romance story on the Plains

A love begun on the Plains outlasts the Cold War, and then some

Auburn 1980 graduates Jim and Jan Holt met on the Plains.

The only thing that’s lasted longer than Jim Holt’s career as a Navy submarine hunter is his marriage to his wife, Jan. Both are equally as important and inextricably linked.

Junior year, Holt ‘80 was introduced to Jan “by my dorm neighbor Jim Richardson. He was like Clint Eastwood — he had girls all over the place,” Jim said. They went to the Capri Dormitory, next to Mama Goldberg’s, which is long since torn down. “I go in the dorm and see her sitting there. There’s eight of them in this small room and I walked over to her and introduced myself.”

“I was knee-deep in engineering, trying to pass my classes and, of course, I had an attraction to her, and she to me,” he said. The two began to spend more time together, even attending the ROTC Midshipman Ball. Holt was nominated as Fleet Admiral, so “the boys” made him shoulder boards with 5 stars on them.

Another night, Jan taught him how to ‘spark’. “She said to me, ‘Take this spearmint Lifesaver and put it in your mouth and I’ll put one in my mouth.’ We got underneath a bush where it was really dark and she told me to crunch down on my Lifesaver. She did hers and I did mine and sparks flew.”

While courting her, Holt said, “I went over one night and she came to the door. I looked at her and asked, ‘Can I kiss you?’ She said yes.”

Senior year, Holt flew out to California to visit Jan, engagement ring in tow. “My mom sewed the ring on the inside of my shirt so I wouldn’t lose it. I went into her room one day and said, ‘Will you marry me?’ We were in the bedroom that she grew up in when I gave her the ring and she cried. Here we are 35 years later.”
The couple was engaged while he went to flight school in Pensacola, Fla., beginning his military career in a T-34 — a single engine trainer. From there he learned how to fly a twin engine airplane at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas. “Once you finish that training, you get your ‘wings of gold’ — your pilot wings,” Holt said. In May 1981, he was winged. Seven days later they were married in Birmingham; Jim Richardson was their best man

Moving to Moffett, Calif., Holt became proficient in the P-3 Orion — a land-based, anti-submarine aircraft. He would serve the U.. Navy in six-month deployments for the next 20 years.

Holt, a crew of 3 or 4 pilots and a Naval Flight Officer (NFO) would hunt submarines with “sonobuoys” dropped in the water with transducers on them to pick up noise.

“If we fly over a submarine, the NFO’s gear will blink, so he’ll say, ‘Madman, madman’ and that means we’re in the fighting stage, we’re getting ready to drop a torpedo on the sub,” Holt said.
“You’re searching at 8,000 ft. and then you get closer to the ocean as you get closer to where you know he is until you hover on top of him — it’s like riding a rodeo horse.

During the Cold War, he would “passively track” – gathering reconnaissance and information – Russian submarines and constantly trained, doing touch-and-go landing and simulated attacks. “We didn’t do active tracking on Russian subs or ay other foreign sub because that shows an aggressiveness that we didn’t want. They don’t know we’re there unless we get real low to the water and they can hear us. If they’re at periscope depth, they can see us,” Holt said.

When he became senior of his crew, he would train the newest P-3 pilot up. “I’m bringing him under my wing because someone brought me under his,” Holt said.

Jim and Jan Holt dance at the NTORC ball in 1979

Once retired from the military, he became a commercial pilot where he now flies for Delta Airlines. His wife returned to the place of their love story where she now works as a Supply Tech for Auburn’s Naval ROTC.

“I’m very proud of what our military does and the sacrifices that are made,” Jim said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished something in my life [and] even though I’m doing something different now, it was very satisfying.”

“I’m very proud of what our military does and the sacrifices that are made,” Jim said. “I feel like I’ve accomplished something in my life [and] even though I’m doing something different now, it was very satisfying.”

Lora Bailey ’87: From The Plains To New Mexico

Lora Bailey ’87: From The Plains To New Mexico

The Dean of New Mexico Highlands University’s College of Education reflects on the changes that furthered her career

Lora Bailey '87

Lora Bailey’s journey to becoming a dean in the college of education at New Mexico Highlands University took a lot of effort. She worked in five other schools before coming to the public university of 70 percent Hispanic students in Las Vegas, N.M.

One of Bailey’s biggest projects at New Mexico Highlands University was to write a $2.9 million grant for the education department for students wanting to pursue STEM fields. Through this grant, students could move more quickly through the program, avoiding remedial courses.

Part of what made Bailey so successful at New Mexico Highlands University was her years of experience leading up to her deanship, such as her doctorate in early childhood education from Auburn University.

When Bailey came to the Plains to pursue her doctorate degree in 1998 in early childhood education, she hadn’t planned on staying long. She left in 2002 to work as an assistant professorship at the University of South Carolina, then as an associate professor and program chair for the Early Childhood Education program at the University of Louisville.

Despite having left, Bailey was recruited back to Auburn and began serving as an associate professor and early childhood program coordinator.

Known for its work with local schools, Bailey helped the Auburn program partner with Loachapoka and Opelika elementary schools and strengthen those collaborations. Bailey said that working as a professor gave her a chance to directly impact the local schools by producing teachers.

“That was really a point of pride for me, making sure that we had a very strong caliber of graduate who was leaving our early childhood program both as an undergraduate, as a masters student but also as a doctorate student,” Bailey said. “That really gave me a lot of pride to work along with our masters students. I had a lot of masters students who were my graduate assistants.”

Bailey also worked with the Holmes Scholar Group, which supports women and students of color throughout their education.

“As a former Holmes scholar, it was just my pride to come back to Auburn and lead that program as well,” Bailey said.

After three years, Bailey moved on from Auburn – but never forgot her alma mater. She knew it was time to move up into a deanship, something which Auburn could not offer her at the time.

Moving to Brenau University in Gainesville, Georgia, Bailey’s new position as a dean at the private college lasted four years. Following Brenau, Bailey became a dean at Indiana University – a school that was both larger and more urban.

“I really appreciated not only having an impact on the college of education, but on the city of Gary,” Bailey said.

During her three years at Indiana University, Bailey addressed one of Gary’s prominent needs- homelessness – especially for veterans and their families.

When Bailey moved onto New Mexico Highlands University, her children began to pursue their own undergraduate degrees. Following in their mother’s footprints, her daughter and son both attended Auburn.

At this point in her career, Bailey is ready to move back into a position of education, rather than a new deanship, and is also involved in chartering a professional grant writing consulting firm, EdCauses, Inc. EdCauses (EdCauses.org) helps not only schools and universities, but businesses and organizations as well.

Bailey said that she often wonders if she did the right thing by leaving Auburn, and even described ‘the loveliest village on the plains’ as home, but is happy to share the knowledge and experience she gained here with the rest of the world

“Auburn is a great place, it’s a hard place to leave, as I said, but at a point you do have to figure out the next phase of your career,” Bailey said. “I think that perhaps my story will allow people to understand that sometimes the next phase of your career is not in the place where you currently are, and it’s ok to move on.”

“Sometimes the next phase of your career is not in the place where you currently are, and it’s ok to move on.”

Lt. Col. Michael “Lucky” LaChance ’84: From Luck to Success

Lt. Col. Michael “Lucky” LaChance ’84: From Luck to Success

Doctors said he was dead, but it was just the beginning

Michael LaChance
LaChance with his wife Laura ’86

If you visit a LaChance family reunion and call out ‘Lucky,’ all the men in the room will turn around. But only one will tell you just how lucky he was to survive seven days in the hospital’s intensive care unit in his early twenties.

“My temperature went up to 109 degrees for 45 minutes,” said Lt. Col. Michael “Lucky” LaChance ’84. “On the ward, they thought I died.”

Assigned to the military’s infantry branch after completing ROTC at Auburn University, LaChance entered ranger school the same year he graduated with a degree in public administration in 1984. But a single instance of heat stroke cut his ranger school training short.

“It was actually a Godsend,” LaChance said. “It set into motion the series of events that changed my life.”

When LaChance wasn’t spending his childhood weekends at a sunny picnic with his family, or flying model airplanes in the backyard with his dad and brother, he was moving from base to base following his dad’s military employment. A hometown wasn’t a place, but wherever he, his brother and parents could stay longer than the place before. “I was always a military brat,” said LaChance. “Home was everywhere growing up.” But that’s the family arrangement.

LaChance’s father, grandfather and brother served in the military. His son, Michael Tyler, currently serves in the army as a captain. More than half his wife’s family has served or is serving. “We’re military families,” he says with a laugh.

While his dad was stationed at Fort Rucker in Dale County, Ala., LaChance chose to attend Auburn University after graduating high school in Ozark, Ala. For LaChance, serving in Auburn’s ROTC program come freshman year was never an option; it was the only option.

“Being at Auburn in the early ‘80s when Reagan was president was phenomenal,” LaChance said. “You had a renewed sense of purpose for your nation, and me and my ROTC buddies were as thick as thieves.”

After overcoming his heat stroke, LaChance was re-branched from infantry to military intelligence, a discipline focused onutilizing analysis collection to provide assistance to commanders in their decisions. The branch switch was anything but what LaChance had imagined for himself during his four years of ROTC training. It forced him to change his perspective on his place in the military, from the one pulling a trigger to the one planning when.

“You know the old joke about the world’s oldest profession? Well, they say this is the second,” said LaChance. “Every decision ever made since the beginning of time requires somebody to process, translate, interpret and make sense of the information all around them.”

LaChance served 21 years as a military intelligence officer, including a tour as the Chief of Intelligence Planning at Third Army, which was the commanding army headquarters for the Middle East. Beginning his military career in the 101st Airborne Division Association as General David Petraeus’s Battalion Intelligence Officer Commander, he successfully lead 120 service and support soldiers and managed $200 million of intelligence equipment. He also served as the COO of Task Force XXI, functioning as the chief of intelligence for the division during the testing of 121 new war fighter initiatives.

In 1998, LaChance became a professor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, until moving to Chicago to teach the Chicago University ROTC and later retiring from the army in 2005. While in college, LaChance never imagined the second half of his life after leaving the military. With a public administration degree, LaChance considered following in his dad’s footsteps and becoming a city manager, but the idea of politics failed to appeal.

“Nobody wants to hire a guy out of the military whose only job was to blow sh*t up,” LaChance says with a laugh. But the heatstroke came in luck. “I took the skills I learned from being a strategic planner and analyst and applied those in the business world all day long.”

For the last 10 years, LaChance has worked as a competitive intelligence executive and technical leader at Wheelhouse in Franklin, Tennessee, a private equity firm backing portfolio companies. “It’s like house-flipping, but with businesses,” he said. Prior to Wheelhouse, LaChance was senior IT project manager for Cogent-HMG and vice president of strategic planning and research for spheris. He also served as strategic services manager for BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. However, transitioning from the military world into the civilian healthcare sector did not come easy.

“A lot of civilian guys feel their first job isn’t as enjoyable or fulfilling as they hoped. You spend 20 years in the military, then get out and realize the world isn’t what you thought it would be. The rose-colored glasses come off.”

In his first job at BlueCross BlueShield, LaChance said he felt as if he were speaking a foreign language, causing ample friction within the workplace. However, when the business moved him to a different branch within government services, LaChance didn’t worry. To this day, he lives by one four-word philosophy: observe, orient, decide and act.

“In my opinion, the one thing that challenges people the most is a learning cycle. If you want to succeed in life, you have to be able to quickly observe, orient, decide and act, then take away lessons learned and try again.”

That, said LaChance, is how he makes his luck. LaChance currently resides in Thompson’s Station, Tennessee, with his wife Laura. In 1983, in the last quarter of LaChance’s senior year, the two met while working at the old Crystal restaurant across from the engineering building together. He worked a different shift than her, but their schedules crossed during a hectic football game in November. He took her on the first date on Thanksgiving. By Christmas, he’d gotten down on his knee. In June 1984, the knot was tied.

“That’s my philosophy,” LaChance said. “I’m not an indecisive person. I made a decision, I committed to it ever since.”

Together, LaChance and his wife have one son, Michael Tyler, and one daughter, Courtney. Though LaChance has led military generals and executives in intelligence analysis and technical planning for over 30 years, he said his greatest leadership position has been being a father.

“The most challenging, as well as the most impactful, leadership you could exercise is setting an example for someone and providing guidance and leadership to your children.” Leadership is simple for LaChance. “You gotta get dirty to experience what everyone else is experiencing,” he said.

It means not leading from the rear but leading from the trenches. It also means observing, orienting, deciding and acting in every given opportunity. For LaChance, opportunities move quickly. A chance heat stroke can open and close a door in the blink of an eye. In intelligence and analytics, some of the greatest decisions are made in split seconds. Life fares no differently.

“You have to go out and make things happen for yourself,” LaChance said. “The one thing I told my students is, ‘Everything I’m teaching you is history from this second on. That doesn’t mean there aren’t facts you shouldn’t be aware of, but the interaction of the human race inside this world we are all contained in, the only way you to succeed in that system is to act, orient, decide, observe, and repeat.”

LaChance with his son, Michael Tyler (Vanderbilt '13) and wife Laura (Auburn '86)
LaChance with his son, Michael Tyler (Vanderbilt ’13) and wife Laura (Auburn ’86)

“In my opinion, the one thing that challenges people the most is a learning cycle. If you want to succeed in life, you have to be able to quickly observe, orient, decide and act, then take away lessons learned and try again.”