Holt-Delhi Historical Society

Established 2014

Notable People

Dr. John Burton Phillips (1866-1923)

John Burton Phillips was born on October 8, 1866 in Holt, Mich. to Silas Henry Phillips and Adelphia Caroline Ferguson. His grandfathers, both paternal and maternal, George Phillips and John Ferguson, were pioneers of Delhi Township (Holt). George Phillips settled in Delhi in 1838 and became Delhi Center's first postmaster in 1848. John Ferguson and George Phillips both held elected office in Delhi Township's early years. John Burton Phillips attended school in Holt all through his childhood.


After leaving Holt in the mid-1880s, he briefly taught at Eastern Indiana Normal University in Muncie, Indiana. In 1885-86, J.B. went off to college at the University of Michigan. He remained at U of M until 1897 when he transferred to Indiana University, graduating with a bachelors degree in 1889. Also in 1889, J.B.'s mother, Adelphia Phillips, died back at home in Holt, Mich. He returned to Indiana to receive his masters degree, with which he graduated in 1891. In 1894 and 1895, J.B. was a graduate student at the University of Michigan, when he again transferred, this time to Albany, New York and graduated with his Ph.D. in political economy, political and social science, and American history from Cornell University in 1897. After graduating from Cornell, Phillips was appointed Assistant Legislative Librarian at the New York State Library in Albany. He was in charge of compiling and indexing laws of the State of New York. In 1899, Dr. Phillips gave a talk on George Washington at Eastern Indiana Normal University, marking the 100th anniversary of Washington's death - the speech received high praise. Around 1900, Phillips traveled the world, as he did frequently. Over the course of his lifetime, Phillips visited England, Scotland, France, Switzerland, and Italy.


By 1902, Dr. Phillips began his career in education at the University of Colorado as a professor of economics and sociology. On July 2, 1903, John Burton Phillips married Mrs. Honora Elder Sherman in Denver, Colorado. During his tenure at the University of Colorado, he took a sabbatical in 1908-1909 to study in Goettingen and Paris. While on faculty at the University of Colorado, Dr. Phillips also served as an acting junior professor of administrative law at the University of Michigan from 1908 to 1911. In 1911, Dr. Phillips made note of the need for the State of Colorado to have a state Tax Commission. Also in 1911, back at home in Holt, Mich., J.B.'s father, Silas Henry Phillips, died. In 1912, Phillips resigned his position at the University and was appointed, with a six year term, to the Colorado State Tax Commission, which was formally established by the state legislature on May 20, 1912. He served as chairman for two years. Phillips, an inaugural member of the commission, remained a member of the tax commission until 1917. After his term on the tax commission, Dr. Phillips was an expert adviser to the National Industrial Conference Board and served as a notable speaker at the New England Tax Conference in New Hampshire in October 1917. He spoke on "Suggestions on the Taxation of Business Corporations." In 1917, Dr. Phillips returned to his alma mater, Indiana University. He was employed as a professor of economics and sociology at Indiana until January 1922. Dr. Phillips was forced to resign his position on the faculty of Indiana University due to ill health.


After his resignation, J.B. and Honora moved to Holt, Mich., to the old Phillips homestead. Dr. Phillips built a new home on the family land where he planned to garden and read, he lived the rest of his days in Holt. Dr. John Burton Phillips died on October 9, 1923 following months of decline in health and after being struck with apoplexy days before his death. Phillips is buried in Holt's Maple Ridge Cemetery. After his death, J.B.'s wife Honora lived almost another thirty years in Holt, dying in 1952. J.B.'s step-mother Lucy died in 1936, thus leaving the family farm land to any living descendant - Honora was the closest relative. During her years in Holt from the mid-1920s to 1952, Honora had the Phillips family farm land platted and sold lots to make a living. The newly-platted neighborhood would consist of the land at the southwest corner of Holt and Aurelius Roads in Holt. The Phillips neighborhood consisted of the streets: Burton, Adelpha, and Phillips. All three road names still exist in Holt, serving as a friendly reminder of the brilliant man whose life began and ended on that very land.

Ronald Van Ermen (1938-1994)

Ronald Van Ermen served Holt Public Schools as assistant superintendent for communications and business. He started with Holt Public Schools in 1979 as director of business services, a position which soon transformed into an assistant superintendent, a position he held until his death in 1994. Van Ermen's education was from the University of Detroit, Wayne State University, and Western Michigan University. He directed the construction of Washington Woods Middle School and Horizon Elementary School, a $24 million project, as well as the renovation/addition to Hope Middle School and renovations to all other district buildings during his tenure. 


In 1988, Van Ermen was the driving force behind the creation of the Holt School Business Alliance, which soon became the Holt-Dimondale School Business Alliance which is still thriving today. Van Ermen wanted the group to be unique, so he worked hard to ensure it was mutually beneficial for the school, businesses, and government involved. The Alliance served as a model for similar organizations statewide. In Spring 1993, the Alliance formed the Ronald Van Ermen Scholarship which has been given annually since to deserving Holt students "with the ability to pursue a college education, but a lack of sufficient funds." 


Holt High School's (now Holt Junior High School) Troost Field is home to the Ronald Van Ermen Press Box. 

Sterling Silver Alf (1911-1995) 

Sterling Silver Alf was born in North Dakota on November 9, 1911 to native Polish parents Benjamin and Minnie (Marquardt) Alf. Benjamin passed away during Sterling’s childhood. After which, a widowed-Minnie and her children moved to mid-Michigan. In 1924, Minnie married Arthur H. Webster in Okemos, Michigan.


As a growing boy, Sterling lived in the Meridian Township area, starting at about 9 years old. When he was 14 or 15 years old, Sterling taught himself to paint. While in school in Okemos, Sterling was the cartoonist for the school newspaper, the O.H.S. Record. He also did work on the scenes and backdrops for school productions and plays. He graduated from Okemos High School with the Class of 1930. In 1938, Sterling painted a full wall mural for the "Old Brown Church" (later the Okemos Community Church) in Okemos. 


Sterling married Canadian-born Hazel Ardis Rogers in Okemos on June 7, 1935. In the 1930s, Sterling worked for Fisher Body in Lansing before World War II. In the 1940s, the couple moved to Holt, by 1945 they moved into their longtime residence on Chestnut Street. After about 1950, Sterling devoted most of his time and energy to painting. He was mostly known as a sign painter, but also did work in murals, cartoons, and oils. According to one of Alf’s grandchildren, velvet was his favorite medium to work with.


Alf’s work has long been in high demand. Among his unique public artworks were his both revered and trouble-making Snoopy fire hydrant which was a regular sight at the corner of Sycamore and Chestnut Streets in the 1960s and 1970s. A favorite of the community, the fire department would always be right behind Alf to paint over the hydrants. Sterling painted “Squirrel Crossing” signs on the backside of street signs frequently as a humorous display of his skill – they disappeared as soon as he put them up. There was regularly a hopscotch court painted on the sidewalk near his home. The Alf house itself is a work of art. Sterling painted the pattern from his wife Hazel’s china, a pattern called “Desert Rose,” all around their home. The house is still decorated on its window frames, doors, and pillars with that pattern. The home is also adorned with a large sign reading “My House” above the side door and the “Alf House” sign along Chestnut Street. Sterling strictly worked out of his basement and garage – he never grew beyond the bounds of his home – which was adorned with a sign that read: “experimental laboratory.”


It is said that Sterling, along with a group of other men, planted trees along Holt’s ‘tree streets’ that matched the name of each street. He was made an honorary member of the Kiwanis Club of Holt, but did not formally belong to any of Holt’s clubs. He was known to freely give his work to Holt’s service groups. Sterling painted and rode his motorbike often with its memorable “IDIOT” license plate. One would also see him driving his car with its license plate, “ROBBER.” Alf was also an avid fisherman. He was named Delhi Township’s first Citizen of the Month in 1977, an award created by Delhi Township’s board to designate and recognize citizens who go above and beyond what is expected of them for their community. He was always known as one of the “funniest guy in town,” and as one of the most caring. He painted a portrait of each of his grandchildren as “Alf’s Elfs,” and all of his family remembers him as the loving, caring, and talented family man he was. After he was established as an artist in Holt, he began signing his work “Alf, of course,” because any new sign or art that appeared in town was more than likely by his hand. See the list below of signs and paintings by Alf. 


Sterling Silver Alf died on July 11, 1995. The day of his funeral is remembered as a hot one by those that attended and the funeral service served as a platform for a vast crowd to tell their stories of Sterling. Sterling is buried in Lansing’s Mt. Hope Cemetery. His headstone is adorned with an artist’s palette – an item which is associated with Sterling both in life and legacy.


Among the countless signs and paintings done throughout the area by Alf include:

  • "Holt: A Friendly Place to Live" sign. Once greeted those entering Holt from the north on Cedar Street. It was donated to the Holt-Delhi Historical Society in 2018 and now hangs in the south conference room in the Holt Community Center. 
  • Crystal Bar signs, including the front window lettering and the famous "Holt's not big enough for a town drunk so we all take turns" sign once featured on national television. 
  • Brower's Food and Hardware signs and vehicles. The signs were removed in 2016 upon the store's closure and lost. 
  • "Employee's Entrance" sign on the second floor exterior door of Original Okinawan Karate at the corner of Holt Road and Cedar Street. It was placed as a joke in the early 1990s as the door has no access on the exterior. 
  • FunTyme Park signs on Harper Road between Holt and Mason. Removed upon the business closure.
  • Ram head logo on the basketball court at Holt High School (now Holt Junior High School) at the corner of Aurelius Road and Sycamore Street. 
  • Clement's Flower Shop delivery van.
  • Ledo Iron Works pickup truck.
  • Hitchens Drug Store mural featuring Yogi Bear and Boo Boo, from the early 1960s, on the north side of the building. Long since painted over. 
  • DeRosa Grocery mural on the south side of the building. Painted over. 
  • Holt Products Company series of paintings depicting the company's history. Done for owner Ernest Hunt and maintained by the family and company ever since. 
  • Holt State Bank painting which once hung in the bank, but has since been lost. 
  • A series of paintings of historic Holt which once hung in Schmidt's Supermarket in the Holt Plaza. The paintings have been lost. 
  • Pageant Homes signs and vehicles.
  • Lansing Lumber signs and vehicles.
  • Carl Finch Builders signs.
  • K&M Bait and Tackle signs, including a life-size fisherman painting which hung outside the business for many years. The fisherman sign was donated to the Holt-Delhi Historical Society in 2015 and now stands inside the HDHS office in the Holt Community Center. 
  • Holt Dairy painting. Donated to Delhi Township many years ago, it was removed from storage in 2014, framed and hung in the Holt Farmers' Market.
  • "Downtown Holt" painting done from a historic photograph of town in the 1960s and given to Midway Elementary School where it hung for decades until 2018. The school donated it to the Holt-Delhi Historical Society in 2018 and it now hangs over the fireplace in the main room of the Holt Community Center.
  • "Holt Recorder" painting of historic Holt buildings including the Holt Recorder office, which long hung in the Delhi Township Hall. It was removed from storage in the Township Hall and returned to public view in the Holt Community Center's south conference room in 2018. 


If you know of another piece of Alf's work of the past or that still exists please contact us. If you know of the whereabouts of any of the "lost" paintings or signs above please let us know. The Holt Community Center remains a lovely setting to display Alf's work and we are always accepting donations of pieces to display in the building. 

Dr. Maurice Pernert (1914-1971)

Earl Maurice Pernert was born on June 3, 1914 in St. Louis, Michigan to Fred C. and Ethel Pernert. Though 1920 and 1930 he remained living in St. Louis with his parents, he graduated from St. Louis High School in 1931. He graduated with his bachelor’s degree from Central State Teacher’s College in Mt. Pleasant in 1935. While at Central he took to athletics and majored in the sciences.


In 1935, he began his first stint teaching in Bad Axe, Michigan, where he taught science and was assistant coach of athletic teams, he remained in Bad Axe through 1936. In 1936, Pernert moved to New Haven, Michigan where he taught science and coached the football, basketball, and baseball teams. He left New Haven in 1941 for Flint’s Bendle School. After teaching for one year in Flint, Pernert decided he didn’t want to teach and took a job as a traveling salesman. That, however, did not last. In February 1943, Pernert took a position teaching science and coaching in Fennville, Michigan.


In 1944, while in Fennville, Pernert met Dorothy Sundstrom. They married and had two children, Fred and Charlotte. In 1945, Pernert moved to Portland, Michigan, where he taught until 1952. In 1950, he earned his Master of Arts degree from Michigan State College. In 1952, he left Portland and moved up the ladder to the superintendent position in Gobles, Michigan. He served as superintendent of Gobles School until 1954. He was then offered the position of superintendent in the community schools of Olivet, where he served as superintendent from 1954 to 1958.


In 1958, Pernert was offered the position of superintendent of Holt Schools when Rex B. Smith left his post as superintendent of Holt Schools to take over the superintendency of Troy, Michigan Schools. In 1958, Holt not only got a new superintendent but their new high school also opened. Once in Holt, Pernert again went back to school and earned his Doctor of Education degree from Michigan State University in 1960. Under Dr. Pernert, Holt saw many school additions and renovations and Wilcox Elementary was built in 1968. The school system doubled, tripled and grew exponentially over Pernert’s tenure as superintendent. Pernert also oversaw the consolidation of many area schools, including, most notably, Dimondale Schools into Holt Public Schools in 1962. A beloved member of the Holt community, Dr. Pernert was responsible for many aspects of Holt Schools which remain today. Pernert once said Holt was the “most pleasant superintendency [he] ever had.”


In the community of Holt, the Pernerts were members of the Holt Presbyterian Church, where Maurice was an elder. He was also a member and treasurer of the Holt Kiwanis Club. He held a high regard for Holt, a community in which he intended to stay for the remainder of his career. 


Dr. Pernert was a member of the Association of School Administrators, the National School Board Association, the National School Public Relations Association, the Michigan Community School Education Association, the Ingham County Superintendent’s Round Table, the Michigan State Alumni Association and was on many councils and committees for the State Board of Education.


Dr. Pernert passed away during his tenure as Holt Schools superintendent in 1971, four months after undergoing open heart surgery at the age of 56.

On the first day of school in 1972, all district flags were flown at half-staff as a tribute to the longtime superintendent. In 1972, Holt’s first year without Dr. Pernert, the school district made many renovations to the high school on Aurelius Road. An auditorium had been added to the school in 1969 and was dedicated to Dr. Pernert after his death in 1972. It was named the “Maurice Pernert Auditorium.” It is still operating today as the auditorium for Holt Junior High School. In 2018, Pernert's portrait was returned to the lobby outside the auditorium after many years of disrepair and removal.