Zola Belle (Holmes) Bleth

July 31, 1932 - Nov 12, 2020

Zola Belle Holmes was born in Bemidji, Minnesota on July 31, 1932 to Lord Jay and Laurel (Radford) Holmes and grew up on their small family farm. She was active in the 4-H Club of Beltrami County, was named Outstanding 4-H Member of Beltrami County and, in 1949, won a national 4-H award in Home Beautification and attended the National Club Congress in Chicago. She graduated Bemidji High School in 1950 and Bemidji State Teacher’s College (now Bemidji State University) in 1952. She subsequently moved to Thief River Falls, Minnesota where she taught first grade from 1952-1954.

On June 30, 1954, Zola married James Edward Bleth in Anchorage, Alaska where he was actively serving in the United States Air Force. While in Alaska, she taught kindergarten at Ft. Richardson Army Base in Anchorage. Following Jim’s service, they moved to Fosston, Minnesota where they owned Jim’s Photography Studio and adopted their first child, Lesley, in 1961. After relocating to Bemidji, they adopted another child, Linda, in 1963. In 1975, Jim and Zola opened their home to the first of what would eventually be 21 foster children.

Throughout her 29 years in Bemidji, Zola was active in the community. She was a member of Homemakers, the Lincoln Elementary School PTA, the adult leader of the Power Dam Pioneers 4-H Club, and a member of the Policeman’s Auxiliary. As a member of St. Philip’s Catholic Church, she taught religion classes for children for many years, and was the leader of the parish Catholic Youth Organization through much of the 1970’s.

Her longtime love of painting was bolstered by her membership in the MN Rural Art Association which honored her as Artist of the Year in 1990. She sold numerous original paintings through art shows and, in later years, her own small gallery. After relocating to Walker, Minnesota in 1988, she became a member of the Leach Lake Art League as well. She gave numerous art lessons to students of all ages in both Bemidji and Walker and continued to teach religion classes at St. Agnes Catholic Church in Walker where she was also active in the church choir.

In 2014 Zola and Jim moved from Walker to Thief River Falls, Minnesota to be closer to her younger daughter and family. She became a member of St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Thief River Falls, and continued her appreciation of art and family as much as time and circumstance permitted.

Zola passed away peacefully at TRF Care Center in Thief River Falls on the evening of November 12, 2020 after having spent the day surrounded by her immediate family. The family extends a special thank you to the staff of the TRF Care Center for their loving and compassionate care of Zola.


Zola was predeceased by her husband, James; her parents, Lord Jay and Laurel Holmes; an older brother, Alan Jay Holmes, who died in infancy; and her older sister, Mary Lou (Holmes) Miller. She is survived by daughters Lesley Hunt of Sandusky, Ohio; Linda (Ernie) Johnson of Newfolden, Minnesota; grandchildren Luke (Stephanie) Johnson of Newfolden and Cassandra (Joel) Gohman of St. Cloud, Minnesota and great-grandchildren Jett Evan, Annie Lynn, and Mackenna James Johnson.

A private family service will be held at Johnson Funeral Service in Thief River Falls, MN with Father Rick Lambert presiding, followed by a celebration of Zola’s life next summer. Interment will be at Spruce Valley Cemetery in Middle River, Minnesota. 

Condolences may be sent at www.johnsonfuneralservice.com

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