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Marv Larson, longtime volunteer, dies at age 92

Marv Larson was honored by the Kiwanis Club for receiving a countywide volunteerism award in April 2012. Marv Larson was honored by the Kiwanis Club for receiving a countywide volunteerism award in April 2012.

Marvin Kenneth "Marv" Larson, who had a heart for service that inspired years of cheerful volunteerism on ballfields and in classrooms and jails, died Thursday at The Laurels, where he had been receiving medical care during several weeks of declining health. He was 92.

A native of Chicago and a chemical engineer by trade, Larson embarked during his retirement in Hendersonville on a second career, giving back to others for 25 years — from gap-toothed grade-school kids to hopeless occupants of local jails, seeking no recognition nor coveting praise.

“Marv cared about people more than anyone I know,” said Bob McCurdy, a Kiwanis Club member who volunteered alongside Larson. “That plus he had an incredible amount of energy for a guy his age. I'll tell you this. He and I always go to Special Needs baseball, and that starts about 9 or 9:30 and goes until 1and when that’s over I’m just flat worn out. I usually go home and lie down. One time last year I told him I was going to do that and he told me he was going to work at the Swing Band concert. I couldn’t keep up with the guy.”

A memorial service has been set for 4 p.m. Wednesday at First United Methodist Church. Larson is survived by two daughters, Cynthia L. Keillor, and her husband Jim, and Pamela Fourthman; granddaughters Nicole and Vallerie Cascadden; a brother-in-law, Richard J. Damisch; and several nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews.

Larson worked in prison ministry in his native Illinois and in Hendersonville, taught Sunday school and tutored kids who needed help to keep up. But the love his volunteering life was the Kiwanis Club's Terrific Kids program, which aims to build self-esteem by recognizing elementary school children for good character. He led the program for 26 years.
"Every time we'd walk into a school everybody in the front office knew him by name," said Kiwanian Bob Garrison, who took over leadership of the program after Larson gave it up last August. "He was just well thought of by everybody and was identified with the program. He needed no identification because everyone seemed to know and appreciate him as the man getting things taken care of."

Chemical engineer

The son of George and Lillian Larson, he graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He served in the Army during World War II. Because of a serious injury during boot camp he spent most of the war in a V.A. hospital and never shipped out to a combat zone.
After his retirement, he and his wife, Marjorie, moved to Hendersonville.
Local insurance man Chuck Roper got to know him at a low point in 1993.
"The way I met Marv, my wife Milissa was a nurse for his wife at Pardee," Roper said. "She had cancer and we were with Marvin the night his wife passed. He didn't have any family here and we just kind of bonded. We just kind of took him into our family."
Marv loved Marjorie "until the day he died," Roper said. "He was always 100 percent."
Organized, with an eye for design, Marjorie worked side by side with architects when the Midwestern transplants built their dream home in the woodsy Holly Hill neighborhood off N.C. 191.
"He was always talking about his dedication to his wife," Garrison said, "how much he loved her. He just had the greatest respect for her and the home she had designed and they had built here in Hendersonville."
If no day dawned that he didn't miss Marjorie, Marv didn't mope. The love in his heart he put to work for his fellow man — through spiritual counseling for jail inmates, Terrific Kids presentations and trunkloads of diapers for "Balfour babies," the young children of single moms attending the alternative high school.
After Marjorie died, Larson jumped feet first into every athletic endeavor Roper suggested.
"We had football camps at the church," Roper said. "He helped with the lining of the field, he helped get sponsors for the poor kids that couldn't afford the camp, getting them scholarships. We coached basketball teams together for the third, fourth and fifth grade and then we coached the baseball teams."
Roper and Larson agreed on teaching the fundamentals without flash.
"I was on vacation," he recalled. "They have a thing called the draft. I told Marv, 'I'm going to be out of town. You don't know these kids. We'll just take the leftovers.'" The other teams drafted the top players. Roper and Larson coached the leftovers into a solid squad that went undefeated.

Larson filled in at his friend's insurance agency, answering the phone and taking messages. It was mainly a good opportunity to talk sports.
"He loved any sport. He was so knowledgeable of all the sports," he said. "I don't care who was in my office. I'd have appointments. Marv would stand at the door and he'd say 'Excuse me, I just need to tell him something,' and he'd bring me something from the sports page — 'Here's what you got to know today, Chuck.'
"If he had anything in his life that he regretted he kept telling me over and over and over if I could have gone to Augustana, I would have walked on and played football," he said. "The thing I think he missed in life that he wanted more than anything was to play college football."
A devoted fan of the Northwestern University Wildcats, Larson would call Roper up on a Saturday afternoon.
"Chuck," he would say excitedly into the phone, "you gotta turn on Northwestern. It's absolutely the best team I think."
"He grew up in Chicago. He'd been down here 25 years. He loved the South, though, and time and time again he said, 'I am so glad I moved to this town, I love this town.'"

Terrific Kids

A Marv Larson day started with a breakfast of oatmeal at the Pampered Palate at 8:30 — servers could set their watch by it. Then he would make his rounds. He'd stop by the School Board office, "then he'd go tutor, then he'd go help the Terrific Kids, then he'd go help the handicapped."
When Donnie Jones started Special Needs Baseball three years ago, Larson enthusiastically volunteered to help. Marv told Chuck about the new league with an evangelist's zeal. "You've got to see these kids," he'd tell him.
Larson owned the Terrific Kids program.
Kids at Hillandale Elementary threw him a surprise birthday party when he turned 90. WLOS covered it and named him the "Person of the Week" for his 25 years of volunteer service.
"I've always loved school," he told the television reporter. "My wife was a teacher, my mother was a teacher. I try to show people I care about them. A lot of people have no one that cares about them. I've always liked to help people."
The Henderson County Association of Volunteer Administrators named him Volunteer of the Year in April 2012.

He never drank or smoked and in later years taught himself to eat right.
"At this point of my life, I'm in fairly good shape," he told a Times-News reporter when he was 90. "I had a four-bypass in '99 at Mission Hospital. After that, you don't worry about anything. I don't get down. Once you're in prison ministry, you're just thankful you're around nice people."

Raised to serve others
Larson's daughter, Cindy Keillor, said her father's heart for service went back to his upbringing.
"My mother was an educator, both of her parents were educators, my father's mother was an educator," she said. "I think there was a tremendous emphasis on service. It was not just Marv. It was the whole family. It was the way they were brought up in their family.
"We all used to get exhausted just listening to all the stuff they were doing." The kids would tell their parents, "Honestly, you all are wearing us out."
Only in the past year or so, when Larson started to run out of gas, did he give up some of his volunteer work, including leadership of his beloved Terrific Kids program.
"We told him, if you're tired, start prioritizing," Keillor said, "and he actually did. He knew he did not have the same amount of energy that he had had."
Chuck Roper will miss his old friend brightening his office door and charging in with the latest amazing fact from last night's box score. He got a message that he likes to think came from Marv.
"Today I was working out and listening to my music," he said. "And I never heard the song ever on my Pandora — 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door.' He's going to be all right. To me it was like giving me some peace."


The family asked that in lieu of flowers, friends make donations to the Kiwanis Terrific Kids program. Checks may be made out to the Hendersonville Kiwanis Club Foundation. The address is P.O. Box 2138, Hendersonville, NC, 28793.