By the time Holly Thompson Rehder was in tenth grade, she had already called thirty different houses home — most of them structures that were either dilapidated, or in run-down mobile home parks. A fairy tale it was not; yet the Republican state senator, who shares her upbringing in her upcoming memoir, “Cinder Girl: Growing Up on America’s Fringe” (Bombardier Books) likens it to one.
“Cinder girl is a reference to the Drew Barrymore Cinderella movie ‘Ever After,’ in which that Cinderella … frees herself, which is exactly where my story brings you to today,” Rehder, 53, told The Post.
Rehder’s life story covers the landmines of addiction, abuse, poverty and instability that marked her childhood with her mother and two sisters. It often included uprooting the family in the middle of the night, when her mother would leave a husband or a boyfriend who had become physically abusive.
There were times the family was split up, and she found herself sleeping on the couch of a friend, or an aunt or uncle.
One night, she watched her stepfather chase her half-naked mother around the mobile home park, aiming a butcher knife at her back. “When the police finally came and arrested him, all I could think about was the fact that Mama wasn’t going to press charges,” said Rehder, who realized, at 14, that she needed to escape. “I knew my only way out was to marry my boyfriend and leave, and I put that plan in motion.”
At age 15 in 1984, she was married. By the time she was 16, she had a child. Rehder held her daughter Raychel in the hospital room for the very first time, right after giving birth — and knew that she could not continue down the same path her mother had chosen.
“I realized that this is a human depending on me for everything but breath and I cannot give her the life that I’ve had for the last 10 years,” said Rehder. “I was just determined. I didn’t care how long it took me to get my GED, how many jobs I had to work, but we were getting out of that.”
It took awhile, but Rehder eventually earned her GED. After 17 years she finished college, getting her degree from Southeast Missouri State University in mass communication. She divorced her first husband when she was 22 years old, and married her second husband, Raymond Rehder, a year and a half later. They had two children, and owned a cable installation business together. (The couple divorced in 2021, after 28 years of marriage.)
It was her role as a small business owner navigating government red tape that led her to run for the Missouri state House in 2012.
In 2020, she ran and won the state senate seat she currently holds. In the spring, she sponsored a bill — now tabled — dealing with the rights of sexual assault survivors.
“I am a sexual assault survivor,” said Rehder, when introducing the bill. “My mother had gone through [this] many times, growing up, and then as an adult, and my sister also, so I’m very familiar. It’s very personal to me.”
Her next goal, she said, will be to run for higher statewide office in Missouri — she hasn’t decided which one yet. “Right now, I love what I am doing.”
Rehder said there is a stigma in our culture about people who grow up in abusive homes or in generational poverty. They often repeat the cycle of becoming teenage parents.
“I never gave up on myself, I never gave up on the idea that I had to pull myself out of the downward direction my life was going. I want other women in these situations to know you are not alone and you can make it out,” says Rehder. “There are truly forgotten people out there in our country — [people] living in despair who we overlook in culture, policy and in politics. I know because I was one of them for a very long time.”