John W. Holmes

Oct 20, 2019
Holmes_John news


Celebration of life gathering: 2:00 p.m. Wednesday, October 23, 2019 at the Waterloo Public Library
415 Commercial Street
Waterloo, Iowa 50701



Private family burial in Fairview Cemetery, Cedar Falls


In lieu of flowers, please send donations in John’s name to the Waterloo Public Library so that others may share in one of his favorite things — words.


John Wendell Holmes believed that words matter for they are the tools of thought. And so, in his honor, his family is going to make the most of these. One of John’s favorite things to do was study a subject by reading everything he could get his hands on. It made him a very good lawyer and in his later years, a very loyal Amazon Prime customer. John loved books and believed reading fiction was a waste of time because “there’s too much interesting non-fiction in the world.”

The real-life story of John began in Washington, D.C. on July 22, 1945, when he was born to his parents Geanette and Wendell Holmes. The family later moved to Waterloo, and John grew up in Highland Park, graduating from East High School in 1963. During his high school years, John used money from his paper route to buy car parts until he was eventually able to build his own roadster from scratch. When it was complete, he applied for and was issued a new title by the State of Iowa. When they asked the make and model at the Treasurer’s office, he replied, “It’s a 1962 Holmes Roadster.”

John drove many cars over the years for he loved them almost as much as he loved books. His last car was a Porsche Cayenne that he enjoyed occasionally letting loose on the highway. But more than cars and even books, John loved his family with all of his heart and soul. He met his wife Joanie in San Diego after serving as a Supply Corps Officer in Vietnam. The two married in her hometown of Kearney, Arizona and drove Joanie’s ’67 turquoise Mustang (“Trudy”) to the University of Iowa where John attended law school. After graduating, he went into practice with his father at Beecher, Beecher, Holmes and Rathert, and later, John and his dad opened their own firm, Holmes & Holmes.

In addition to his Joaniebug, the other two loves of John’s life were his children, Shelley and Michael. Under his constant love and support, Shelley and Michael believed from an early age they could do anything they set their minds to do. Both now writers, they are setting their minds to keeping their dad’s story alive.

In addition to his wife Joanie, his daughter Shelley and his son Michael, John is also survived by his brother Stephen Holmes and his family; his beloved son-in-law James “Matte” Elkins and daughter-in-law Stacy Holmes; and his two grandchildren Lincoln and Madeline Elkins who loved their Grandpa John dearly.

John’s family will hold a private burial on Tuesday arranged via Locke Funeral Services. They warmly welcome anyone who knew and loved John to join them on Wednesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. for a celebration of his life at the Waterloo Public Library. It will include a little music (especially Johnny Cash) and a lot of memories.

Click here to send a private message to the family.



Leave a comment
  1. John Marshek | Mar 26, 2020
    Dear John and family- I was a Fraternity Brother and a big fan of John and enjoyed the many time we enjoyed together He had told me of his illness and I missed seeing him at Iowa City for a Phi Delt get together. He was a good friend and I am so proud of all he did as a Father and lawyer and good human being. I hope the family forgives me for not knowing he has left us and I look forward to seeing him again in HEAVEN! A Friend from California--Baggy
  2. Tim Lind | Oct 21, 2019

    Brother Tom and I grew up with John in Highland where we spent summers playing workup, 500, and other baseball games and basketball, football in the fall, and the winters at John's meticulous basement workshop for design and planning meetings where the Holmes Roadster was conceived whose engine was later installed using the Little Highland swing set as an engine hoist.  Also conceived and constructed at the Holmes Skunk Works were go-karts, Whizzer moped upgrades and assorted automobile tools and accessories.  John contracted Rothler Welding for our fabrication welding and many a day we could be found at that shop holding pieces for the German Craftsman as they were welded.  We road our bicycles everywhere streaking down Independence to Downtown Waterloo.  It was apparent early that John was well spoken, resourceful, and a tinkerer.  He researched topics relentlessly and an argument would need to be solid to survive.  As life moved on we would see each other occasionally and I always enjoyed the same thoughtful conversation.  His life was filled with accomplishments, a beautiful wife and son and daughter, a Vietnam Veteran who served honorably an ungrateful Nation, a hero that battled cancer without reserve.




  3. Kevan Cortright | Oct 21, 2019

    To Joanie and the family,

    I’m so very sorry you must endure the loss of John. I was fortunate to meet him early in my Real Estae career and knew his Dad as well. John’s command of language was always a pleasure to enjoy and I loved his grasp of the law. I will miss him and his many wonderful traits. God bless and give you strength. Sincere sympathy to you all.

    Kevan Cortright


  4. Linda and Basil Boyer | Oct 20, 2019

    Basil and I are saddened by John’s passing and offer our sincere condolences to Joanie, Shelley (Matte), Michael (Stacy) and John’s grandchildren, Lincoln and Madeline.  I know he will be sorely missed by his many friends, as we will miss him - his kindness, generosity, and willingness to discuss any topic of choice.

    Stacy could not have chosen a better father-in-law.

    Happy roadster-ing, John!

  5. Jessica Koffman | Oct 20, 2019
    These are beautiful, heartfelt, amazing, nostalgic, enlightening, admirable, thoughtful, clever, funny, touching, and inspiring words. John certainly had the best of the best words on his side, and the best of the best family on his side for his whole ride. No one else could express such meaningful words about such a meaningful dad, husband, and genius better than the individuals who love him like you do. I love you all, and I will continue to love John through the endless parts of him that I will continue to see in you. He lives on, and he will always live on. I send all my love to you and all my awe of what a truly great man he was and how that will infinitely shape a family who has witnessed first-hand what a genuine legend is like. My heart is heavy for you, but it’s absolutely full of love and admiration. I will miss the clever glimmer that always twinkled in his smile, but I will never forget it. Take comfort in each other. I hope to make it there, but my heart is there with you already.
  6. Phoebe and Steve Winninger | Oct 20, 2019
    Phoebe and I are deeply saddened at the loss of our good friend, former neighbor and attorney.  Our condolences to Joanie, Shelley, Michael, and their families.  Additionally John was a teacher and my partner in building an airplane that was never finished for a number of good reasons.  We watched the children grow up and enjoyed a close relationship with the family.  When John undertook a project, he studied every element of the topic to the point of a deep understanding.  Who else would hold court from his hospital bed with doctors and nurses at the Mayo Clinic because he knew things about cancer they did not know? We saw one of the greatest pilots of all time, the late R. A. “Bob” Hoover, perform at the air show in Oshkosh Wisconsin a number of times.  I’m sure at this point John has cornered Bob and has engaged him in deep conversation about aerodynamics, physics and defying the laws of gravity.  Soar now with the angels, my friend.

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