of Aberdeen, Idaho
This is just a brief glimpse of Al Larsen of Aberdeen, Idaho written by one of his daughters, Di Lyn Larsen-Hill of La Grande, Oregon. Al died July 2, 2001 after a long and adventurous life.
On the exterior Al may have appeared a straightforward, simple man, but in reality, he was one of the most complex and interesting men I have ever known. His life was a tribute to the morals and standards that he held so dearly.
He was born Feb. 16, 1917 in Aberdeen, one of six children born to Julius and Grace Claypool Larsen. His siblings were Dorothy, Evelyn, Mildred, Delbert and Roy. The Larsens homesteaded on a place just northwest of town where Julius raised grain and sugar beets. That original home was hauled into town to its new location on East Fifth Street in 1910. The old house has since been torn down.
When Al was six years old, his father died of cancer and Grace took in washing to keep the family going. The children found work at early ages. Al went to work picking spuds and hoeing beets at age six. At one point, he lived with the Abercrombie family while he worked on their place. Then in 1924 Grace died, leaving the six young Larsens to fend for themselves.
In 1936 Al landed a job with Guy Smith who owned the Aberdeen Conoco station, setting the stage for a career that spanned many decades. On New Year’s Eve 1936 Al met the girl of his dreams – Ellen Beth Barnes – at a dance in American Falls. They were married on March 13, 1938, and spent the next 56 years raising their family – all 11 of them. Al, a hardworking man with a deeply ingrained work ethic, always found time for his children. Family was the single most important thing in his life, the reason behind every decision he ever made.
Over the next three years Al worked for Lee Corbridge at his service station in American Falls, followed by a year with Ford Roberts. Then Al and his younger brother, Roy, decided to hitchhike to Illinois to take jobs at a foundry where they made tools. Ellen Beth and their two young boys, Dallas and Randy, took a train back in 1940 to join them, but the young couple pined for their native Idaho. When a telegram and a job offer came from his old boss, Ford Roberts, the Larsens immediately headed back west.
In 1942 Al moved his growing family back into his birthplace and kept adding on new sections as the babies kept arriving.
In 1945 Al and his father-in-law, Walter Barnes, build the Conoco station located across the street from the old Star Theatre and Sweet Shoppe. Al worked that place for the next 20 years, and in 1965 moved over to run the Sinclair Station (known as Al’s Freeway) on Main Street. He retired in 1983.
Throughout his many years in the service station business, Al managed to weave in his love of trees and plants. In the early years he helped the local Boy Scouts by selling Christmas trees for them. When the Scouts discontinued their program, Al kept up the tradition. He took great pride in displaying the pine-scented beauties in holiday fashion, with strings of colored lights dancing overhead.
His customers trusted him, and Al knew no strangers. Mrs. Sam Nealey, a long-time customer and friend, said, “We have always enjoyed doing business at Al’s. He was interested not only in taking care of the gas and oil business, but he took a personal interest in people, and I depended on him for that advice more than anyone else in town.”
He and Ellen Beth opened their nursery plant business many years, hauling flats of bedding plans and shrubs from Idaho Falls and Pocatello. Al quickly outgrew his first small greenhouse, and built a larger one to accommodate his thriving business. His own yard was always a beautiful display of his wares and talents.
An empty lot adjacent to the Sinclair station offered Al a new challenge. He obtained permission from the owners, Gloy and Cliff Wride, and soon the area was bursting with brightly colored flowers, green grass and a park-like appearance. Back in 1983 Mrs. Wride was quoted as saying of Al’s little park, “It has been such a bright spot in our town, as everybody knows. Al has taken such pride in this. He has a little of the eye of the artist, the way he has arranged all the flowers there. He’s such a neat man. Everything he does is neat.”
Al’s green thumb and knack for landscaping benefited all of his customers and residents of the area.
In 1948 Al and six Aberdeen fellows organized the Booths and Saddle Club, a riding club that at its peak, had a roster of 45 members. The original group worked hard to turn the old Labor Camp on Beach Road into a posse ground, using donated wood and hundreds of hours of volunteer labor. They practiced twice a week, and if you listened carefully on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the sound of iron horseshoes on paved city streets filled the summer night air. The men and their horses were headed for home pastures. Several years later they moved their riding grounds to 15 acres of land north of Aberdeen, land donated by Pearl Slaugh. Two of the Larsen boys joined Al in the club, Randy and Kent. Al was one of the last surviving charter members.
After Al retired from the service station, he was immediately hired to work as groundskeeper for the new Aberdeen golf course – Hazard Creek. He helped turn the old slough into its current lush condition of fairways and greens.
He retired for the second time in his life in 1994, and was honored by the City of Aberdeen for his hard work and dedication to the golf course project. He next served on the Aberdeen Cemetery District Board of Directors. Several years ago he served as Grand Marshall of the Aberdeen Days Parade.
Al’s large family consisted of sons Dallas and Randy of Aberdeen, Kent of Boise, daughters Mardyne Kisner, Jan Pratt and Tracy Graves of Aberdeen, Toni Bowman of Soda Springs, Karla Morris of Rockland and Di Lyn Larsen-Hill of La Grande, Oregon. He and Ellen Beth had 27 grandchildren, and 32 great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild. Two children, Rick of Nampa, and Sandra Hollingsworth of Pocatello, died earlier.
Some of the highlights of our younger years included Dad teaching us how to ice skate on the American Falls Reservoir at the Boat Dock. We had great childhoods, all of the Larsen kids, thanks to two great parents. Mom and Dad were always spooning and sparking as Mom used to call it, dancing cheek to cheek in the kitchen and always holding hands.
I’m so glad that many years ago a very young Al Larsen had the audacity to butt in on Lee Hansen’s date at that New Year’s Eve dance with Ellen Beth Barnes. Al pursued and won the heart of that Rockland gal, and what a life we all shared because of it.