HIGHLAND — Like most mothers we know, Holly Mendenhall's daily schedule springs forward like a fired bullet — a blur of meals, taxi services and baskets of laundry. Pile on the challenge of moving into a new home with its accompanying landscaping, sprinklers, fences, flower gardens and the never-ending chore of keeping dirt out of the house, and she's hip deep in lists.
"I'm plugging away with life — chasing and raising boys. It's the story of my life. It's good, I'm lucky," says the wife of BYU football coach Bronco Mendenhall on Friday between shuttling her three sons from school, soccer and swimming.
Outgoing, engaging and quick with banter, she is the polar opposite of her introverted and private husband whom the Sporting News recently listed as one of the nation's best college coaches. Where his door is open but guarded, she lives with a swinging gate and neon sign that screams accessibility.
They are good for one another.
At a Friday photo shoot crammed into a 45-minute window of access inside her home, Holly is as unpretentious, unguarded and unpampered as a Montana ranch girl can be as she quickly jumps at suggestions from photographer Scott G Winterton. Without a mirror in sight to check fears, blemishes or errant strands of hair, she dons some Cougar gear and races to Bronco's closet for a hat.
In her bare feet, she then makes fun of herself, flipping her hair like a model, telling her sons she is a cover girl. It's in reference to a recent feature and cover in Utah Valley Magazine. "I'd love to be a size 2 but I'm not, so I can just wear one of my husband's jerseys. I hate hats, but Bronco loves me to wear them. Hats are always crooked on my head."
Hat on or hat off — it doesn't matter and Holly will not flinch. Doing prissy is not in her DNA.
This is Holly Mendenhall.
Outside the back window of the new Mendenhall house, set on three acres on the boundary of Highland and Alpine, you can see the childhood digs Bronco grew up on and a pasture where his cousin is riding a cutter horse, practicing moves in the lush, tall green grass.
The new house is a project; it will take the Mendenhalls all summer to work on finishing touches in the yard.
Holly, who has a college degree in French, has taken the past 10 years to raise her sons (Cutter, Breaker and Raeder) and set her life aside for that purpose. Part of immersing herself in that duty is a philosophy of exposing her sons to other cultures inside and out of the U.S.
She recognizes the Mendenhalls are lucky to have the resources to do this, but she is passionate that it be a priority.
"I want my kids to be productive citizens, to give back and not to take what they have for granted."
So, she's taken them abroad to see how others live, eat and dress. She's also been an example of what one should do to help others in need.
Her first such venture was to take her sons to France where they biked the Loire Valley from castle to castle and then visited Cannes. Bronco didn't want to go, so she took her mother and the boys and left without him.
She's planned other trips, like hiking the Dolomites in Italy and a visit to Panama to see her brother and fly across the Panama Canal in a six-seater that landed on a strip next to a herd of cows. She's taken trips to Mexico many times with the family and gone with one of the boys to England and Scotland. The family made a humanitarian trip to Peru.
In Peru, Bronco, Holly and the boys went up to villages in the mountains with clothes, toys, games and mingled with families. Bronco threw a football around with kids who'd never seen one; he also painted fingers and toes of girls.
"Now that's a picture you have to see," says Holly.
"We've been dragging around the boys on trips for a long time. They've become pretty good little travelers."
In time, she wants to take her sons to Africa, Southeast Asia, the South Pacific, New Zealand and Australia. "There is no place I will not go," she says.
Before she married Bronco, she owned an adventure travel business. "I love to travel. It's a pain and a lot of work to plan trips, but I love to do it and when there are issues or problems, that's just part of the adventure."
Holly wants her kids to get out of familiar surroundings and expose them to other places. "I think Bronco is on board with that. He hasn't traveled a ton, but he is catching the vision a little bit."
Holly believes everyone in America, if they can, should leave for a while.
"It's to appreciate what we have because when you leave, you realize the small, tiny little things we take for granted that other places do not have. I want my boys to realize what they have and not get caught up in their own little world. It goes with the philosophy that when you leave this life you can't take anything with you but what's in your brain."
Also atop her list is to teach her children it is important not to just talk of charity but to do it.
"To those who have been given much, you have to give back," she says. That is why she and her husband began the Bronco and Holly Mendenhall Foundation, which incorporates Thursday's Heroes. This is a program where once a week individuals in need or those who are limited are brought to BYU's football practice to meet the team and receive gifts, encouragement and support from coaches and players.
One day Holly and Bronco found themselves doing good work they thought was beneficial but were "just writing checks." They decided it would be better to actually do something in addition to writing those checks.
So, they started the Cowboy Ball, which will be Saturday, May 19 at Stephen's Foxtrotters Family Farm in Wallsburg. Cost is $200 per person with corporate tables still available. That morning is the Gridiron Rumble, a three-hour motorcycle ride with Bronco that begins with an 8 a.m. breakfast at Timpanogos Harley-Davidson in Orem. They plan on a run or hike to the "Y" in October.
"The Cowboy Ball is a lot of fun but a lot of work. We limit it to 200 people so we can keep it intimate and Bronco and I can meet people and talk to them."
Money raised for these events funds a new grant program wherein Thursday's Heroes or their immediate families can apply for money to help with renovation projects, medical equipment or education costs in the $1,000 to $10,000 range.
"We've found that people like to give, like to contribute, but sometimes they just don't know where to make that donation," says Holly. "And people don't want to give their money and see it go towards a slick brochure or pay someone's salaries or expenses. Nobody makes a penny with our foundation. It goes directly to Thursday's Heroes and for as long as I can, that's how it is going to be.
"We can't touch the medical bills some people have because they are so much, but we can help with other things."
Holly said all these efforts, aside from helping others, is to show their sons they actually do what they talk about with charity.
"It's come a long way and we've made big strides. For me, about three events a year is all I can handle."
That's why they've created what they call "perpetual" producers that help the charity year-to-year on their own. Two of these include a motorcycle jacket or coat patch, available at BroncoMendenhall.com, and a soon-to-be published BYU cookbook via Deseret Book.
Holly quickly changes on this Friday, barking out reminders for one son to get ready for swimming as another practices piano. The whirlwind has started once more and there is no Bronco in sight. He's still at work and is preparing for a fireside circuit trip to New Zealand with his parents, who served as LDS mission presidents there a few years ago.
"If Holly was not independent, I couldn't be the coach at BYU," Bronco told Utah Valley Magazine. "She is bright, articulate and absolutely strong-willed. She's also loving, supportive and has a great listening ear. Without these qualities combined, my career at BYU would have been over at year two or three."
Cowboy Ball and Gridiron Ball: The Cowboy Ball and Gridiron Rumble are sponsored by the Bronco and Holly Mendenhall Foundation. For more information, visit BroncoMendenhall.com. Both events are planned Saturday, May 19.
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