Thad Holcombe:Life at KU
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Holcombe and wife, Linda Watts, pose in front of a huge sunflower patch. The two have been married for 27 years.
Rev. Holcombe and his wife, Linda Watts, have been maried for more than 27 years.
Anna, right, and Kara prepare for the first day of school with an annual photo. Anna, 20, and Kara, 17 have since outgrown the tradition

The bonds of his Southern upbringing pulled tightly on Holcombe after graduation, leading him to marriage before he was ready. The times called for him to graduate, marry and get a job, Holcombe said. The marriage ended seven years later, but not before Holcombe had finished seminary.

"I wasn’t ready for marriage," Holcombe said. "To be a man, you had to marry right out of college. It was pretty common then."

Before his marriage ended, Holcombe became pastor at University of Tulsa, his first choice. While the Presbyterian Church strongly recommended congregational ministry, Holcombe said no thanks. Hewanted to preach in a secondary-education environment or in an inner city, and received both opportunities in Tulsa.

Something he didn’t plan on was meeting Linda Watts at the University. Watts, a graduate student, met Holcombe in church, and the two became friends in 1969. The friendship grew as the two fell in love and bonded through a shared an interest in helping people. While Holcombe was a reverend, Watts helped children as a social worker. The two married in 1973 with Watts keeping her maiden name.

"She is a striking woman," Holcombe said. "There was a physical attraction there, and we shared common interests."

There common interest came in helping people. While Watts chose social work, Holcombe poured his passion into ministry. The man, who welcomed all to his church, always had a smile for anyone walking through the doors. Through his own peaceful presence, he invited others to join him.

Holombe and Watts gathered a large extended family through their jobs, they started one of their own in 1980 with the birth of their daughter, Anna. The light-brown haired girl had a shy personality but an infectious smile.

Holcombe made the transition to fatherhood seamlessly, Watts said. He made only one change with the birth of his daughter in 1980— he stopped smoking. Anna brought out the protective side in Holcombe since he wanted to shield his daughter from the dangers of smoking.

"It was just one more reason to quit," Holcombe said. "I had been making excuses, but I decided Jan. 18 would be the day. I told everyone I was quitting. I went up to almost complete strangers, and I told them. I have only had two cigarettes since then."

After 16 years in Tulsa, Watts initiated a move for a "change for change’s sake." The family decided to stay in the state as Watt’s mother was in a nursing home, and they wanted to remain close to her. The family moved south to Norman and the University of Oklahoma. They made the transition from a small, private university in a large city to a large, public university in a rather small city.

Before they moved, the Holcombes started the adoption process for a second child. They adopted 3-month-old Kara into their lives shortly after their move to Norman. Born in South Korea, the baby came to America and the waiting arms of her family.

"We had strong feelings about overpopulation," Watts said. "We felt like we didn’t have the right to have more children when the world was overpopulated. We wanted another child and decided to adopt."

During her 17 years, Kara has experienced numerous psychological and neurological problems. Doctors finally diagnosed her with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. It has been a turbulent time for the family, including Thad, but they have all concentrated on the most important thing—Kara.

"It’s had a huge effect on my life," Holcombe said. "It’s made a connection between Kara and I that I didn’t have with my biological daughter. We have been to a lot of counseling and see the real shame some people see in mental illness. We have had many joys with Kara in our lives."

The family spent more than seven years in Norman before looking for a different patch of scenery. Watts said they loved the people but didn’t enjoy the town of Norman. They started looking for something bigger and more diverse and found Lawrence. For the first time in his life, Holcombe would permanently move out of the state of Oklahoma. While spending nearly the first 50 years in the Sooner state, he would begin the 1990s in a state that seemed far different than his native land.

"I still feel part of my roots are in Oklahoma," he said. "It was hard to leave. Kansas is a different place, both historically and culturally. It was more of an adjustment than I realized."


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Page constructed by Michelle Ward, a graduate student in journalism. She can be contacted at
Photos courtesy of Rev. Holcombe