Spence Hollstadt, a longtime Pioneer Press photographer who captured one of the newspaper’s most remembered set of images during a hostage standoff, passed away Friday in his St. Paul home.
Hollstadt was 85 and was in hospice care for overall health conditions, including lung cancer.
Hollstadt was born in 1934 in Minneapolis. He attended Roosevelt High School and pumped gas at a local gas station where he would listen to big bands on the radio during slow hours. After graduating in 1952, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and served as a rifle patrolman from 1952-55 during the Korean War.
During his final military stint in Honolulu, he was introduced to photography. He snapped photographs of the island landscape out of helicopter doors and photographed Marine activity on the downtown streets.
After the war, he was hired by the Associated Press in St. Paul to develop negatives in its photo lab. In 1957, he was hired as an overnight photographer for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and began covering car crashes, fires, police activity, and sporting events. He retired in 1991.
He was the first Pioneer Press employee to forgo the traditional 4×5 Speed Graphic camera for a 35mm Nikon F, with which he captured several award-winning photographs during his 39-year employment. One of his most iconic images is of an active hostage situation outside St. Paul-Ramsey Hospital, now Regions Hospital, taken Jan. 28, 1971.
“He would shoot the picture, but I think he was shooting their soul,” his wife, Gail Hollstadt, said.
His attire, which rarely changed between home and the office, generally consisted of blue jeans paired with a leather jacket and a Harley-Davidson T-shirt and ball cap. Under his sleeves were tattoos of skulls, skeleton women and a wizard holding a crystal ball of his wife’s face.
“He was an unpolished individual,” said former Pioneer Press photographer John Doman. “He was tough, but he had a heart of gold.”
Beyond the newsroom doors, Hollstadt and his wife were often found atop a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. One of the three original corporate officers for the Minnesota Ol’ Timers Motorcycle Club, he collected his share of scrapes and scars and Sturgis Motorcycle Rally memories.
He once offered to transport to Sturgis a woman with a broken leg whom he had met while on a photo assignment, Gail said. The woman accepted and joined the couple for a multi-state road trip and several days at the rally in South Dakota.
“What he had, he gave away,” Gail said. “I’d like him to be remembered with his deep love of family and friends.”
His final years were spent mostly in bed surrounded by his wife and sons, but he didn’t stop living hard. He rested while listening to Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, the Grateful Dead and the big bands of his childhood.
He took his final breath at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Gail said. As his chest heaved to pull in that last bit of air, the tattoo of the Grateful Dead skull and a long-stemmed red rose near his spine followed. “Fare thee well,” it read.
“He was on his way to Sturgis,” Gail said.
He is survived by his wife Gail and sons Rich of St. Paul and Mike of Elmwood, Wis., and four grandchildren. He was preceded in death by parents Agnes and Floyd and brother Denny.
The funeral will be at 11 a.m., April 25 at Simple Traditions by Bradshaw in St. Paul with a military ceremony at Fort Snelling to follow.