Joe Larson, entrepreneur, author and philanthropist, died on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at Sherman Home Hospice on Mayo Campus in Phoenix, Ariz., surrounded by his loving family.
Born May 25, 1920 in Galesville, Wis., he grew up during the Great Depression years and was raised by a widowed mother.
In those bleak times, many families knew the hardships of poverty and Joe's family was no exception. The death of his father at age 11 meant that Joe was the head of the household and had to work to support his mother. The young boy worked as often as he could, and this left very little time for school. Finally, he was forced to drop out of high school and work full-time.
He washed cars, hauled ice, was a farm laborer, delivered beer barrels and worked on a road gang for the WPA. Life was tough on Joe, but his energy and determination never wavered. The "school of hard knocks" taught him that "common sense and plain dealings" were valuable traits. The rest of his life, he used that philosophy as a measuring stick.
In early manhood, Joe sold Fuller Brushes door to door. This experience exposed him to his true calling: sales. While talking to customers, he developed a certain polish and learned social graces from observing others.
Joe also served his country during World War II in the Air Force.
A firm believer in the free enterprise system, Joe bought his own small brush factory in Sparta, Wis., at the age of 22. He focused on the task with his usual determination and built this infant company into one of the largest brush manufacturing companies in the United States: the Sparta Brush Company.
His life journey took him into marriage. When his son Jack grew up, he entered the business with Joe and, for many years, they worked hand in hand.
The great success of his brush company enabled Joe to become financially independent and allowed him to walk with and enjoy some of the most important people of his time.
In order to market his brush products, Joe became a celebrated public speaker. Overcoming a speech impediment, he sharpened his speaking skills and was soon in great demand around the country as a humorous and inspiring performer on the national banquet circuit. He became known as the "Bob Hope and Toastmaster General of the Food and Dairy Industry."
Joe was a charter member of the National Speakers Association and its fourth president. He was honored by this group in 1983 with the prestigious Cavett Award. And in 2012, he received one of the highest honors, the Speakers Hall of Fame award.
Joe was fascinated with people and he naturally entered politics, serving as mayor of Sparta, Wis. During his term in office, he fostered plans that launched the town into a tremendous economic growth cycle.
The death of his first wife, Esther, was a shock, and he fought to keep his equilibrium during that period. Joe's positive attitude helped him through his grief.
Life, though, had more surprises for Joe. A devastating fire completely destroyed his Brush Company, but he never faltered. Out of the ashes, he rebuilt his company into one that grew even larger and more prosperous.
His marriage to Jan was a great source of comfort and strength to him. She was a true partner and was constantly by his side as he continued to develop his life.
The hard-earned wealth he accumulated allowed him to make a difference for many, many charities. He served on the board of many nonprofit organizations and created scholarships for deserving university students.
The sale of his company brought Joe even more financial success and he was now in a position to give something back to people in need.
He retired to Scottsdale, Ariz., and became involved in many projects designed to help others. He was an active member of the Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, serving on the Session and chairing the stewardship committee. Joe also founded the Classic Residence Foundation in Scottsdale, which is designed to further the education of the youth.
Joe believed strongly in honesty and loyalty. His favorite poem, "The Dash," stressed how important it is to make the world better in the moments between birth and death. He accomplished this by living with honor and compassion. Joe prized a good sense of humor and his speeches were sprinkled with wit and the ability to laugh at himself. Many of his one-liners, called "Larsonisms," are often repeated on speaker platforms across the country.
He squeezed extra minutes out of every day and lived life to the fullest. His journey was fast and furious. And yet, he made time to enjoy special moments with friends and family. Every hour was precious to Joe and every second memorable.
His life is more than a lesson in success; it is a wonderful experience in courage, honesty and true grit. All of this is well described in his popular book, "My Ph.D. in Living with Honors."
Joe is survived by his wife, Jan; stepdaughter Janette Schroeder; granddaughters Virginia Seielstad and Jacqueline Vaver; two great-granddaughters; a great-great-grandson; two nephews; and one niece.
Funeral services will be 11 a.m. Monday, April 8, 2013, at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, 25150 N. Pima Road (corner of Pima and Happy Valley roads) in Scottsdale, Ariz. A reception will follow at Pinnacle Peak Country Club, 8701 E. Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale, Ariz.
A memorial service will be in Sparta, Wis., at a later date.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, 8701 E. Pinnacle Peak Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85255; Classic Residence Foundation, 7501 E. Thompson Peak Parkway, Scottsdale, AZ 85255; Hospice of the Valley, 1510 E. Flower St., Phoenix, AZ 85014; or the Morrow Memorial Home for the Aged Inc., 331 S. Water St., Sparta, WI 54656.
Joe Larson leaves us with this thought: "If everybody works every day to earn their Ph.D. in Living... our lives will truly be better."
Posted: Friday, April 05, 2013
Article comment by:
Mike and Colleen Frank
We had the honor and privelege of knowing Joe for over 30 years through our speakers association. He was the truest of gentlemen, in all regards. We admired him to the utmost. He will long be remembered and loved. Jan, our thoughts and prayers are with you.