People of Willmar – Marlys Larsen

Matthew 25:35

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,    I was a stranger and you invited me in.

Marlys Honrud Larsen grew up in the small town of Rothsay, MN, in a safe, loving and economically poor home.  She had an older sister, Gloria, and an older brother, Russell.  Her parents and community were bilingual, speaking Norwegian much of the time.  The teachers did not know Norwegian, so jokes were often told in Norwegian to confuse the teachers.  There was only a water pump and outdoor biffy in Marlys’ home until she was 12.  Her dad was a trucker and farmed 80 acres and her mom was a cook at the school.

Marlys  graduated from  Concordia College, Moorhead, MN, with double majors in French and English and a minor in Sociology. She went on to teach first, second and third year French at Osseo, MN Senior High.  Her next step was teaching French and English at Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  She later took a job as First Technical Editor at Univac in St. Paul, MN.  This was when computers were as big as a room and it was difficult for computer users to understand how to operate them.  She was hired to translate and organize the information so it was understandable to the users.  Marlys’ experiences and interests had begun weaving what would become a lifelong interest in multi-culturism.

She moved up to the University level when she became part of the Adjunct faculty of Winona State University, serving as coordinator of Adult Continuing Education.  While pursuing a masters in ESL (English as a Second Language), Marlys had the opportunity to write papers on several immigrant topics.  She wrote, “A Peculiar People – The Norwegian Immigrants of the late 1800’s Provide Insight into that great Melting Pot in America That Doesn’t Really Melt.”  She presented this paper at the University of Gottborg, Sweden in 1993 at the XIV Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics and the VIII Conference of Nordic and General Linguistics.  Norwegian professors responded that Norway lost half of it’s population during that time, and they said they lost the movers and shakers. That stamina helped create a wonderful culture in the USA.  Marlys believes that today’s immigrants have similar stamina that is needed to leave their homeland.  That stamina will benefit the USA.

Dean served as a Parish Pastor and the Larsen’s often served as an open home to those in need.  In Smithwick, they housed a woman who was leaving her husband and needed a place to stay.  In Hot Springs, SD, a family was moving to Rapid City and had a daughter who was a Senior in High School.  Her dad asked if she could stay with them to finish out her year.

They earned a reputation for being an inviting and open safe house.  In Watertown they hosted an unmarried mother with cognitive delays who had a young baby.  They were welcomed into the Foster Care Program without ever applying.  Two foster teenage daughters lived with them at separate times.  Another time, the police called and asked Larsen’s to host a young mother and her toddler son.  She was a German bride married to an American soldier who had gone AWOL and was arrested due to other behaviors.  In another instance, a man from Sweden needed a place to stay for a while.  These were all temporary stays that lasted from a month to a year.

In 1976 they moved to Spicer, MN, where Dean served as Executive Director of Green Lake Bible Camp.  They continued to open their home to others.  They were foster parents to two teen age nephews for a couple of years.  They hosted two foreign exchange students.  The birth mother of an adopted niece lived with them for several months.  Dean’s dad lived with them during the summers.  Marlys’ mother, Inga, and brother, Russ, moved to a home in Spicer, because they had extra needs for family care.  Her sister Gloria, along with husband Vern, relocated to Spicer to be close to their relatives.  Marlys’ daughter, Kim, has two children, and Kim’s role of parent has been shared with her parents.  Marlys spent many years as a Realtor Broker in the Spicer and Willmar Area and also became a landlord.  She served four years on the Spicer City Council and has served on several community boards.

Marlys and Dean enjoyed 46 years of marriage before his passing in 2010.  He had served as Director of Green Lake Bible Camp of Spicer for 22 years.  During his leadership, two additional sites were added to the Camp.  Shores of St. Andrew by New London along with Camp House in northern Minnesota, and the beautiful Chrysalis House on Green Lake was built.  Many who have worked at the camps over the years consider their time there as an important building block in their lives.

Looking back, Marlys’ life comes together like a richly woven fabric of truly living the verse from Matthew 25:35.  A woman with an open mind, a caretaker’s heart, and a welcoming home.  Marlys continues to weave that fabric with her family and community.  She can be found at local coffee shops visiting with friends about current issues. She attends meetings and speaks up regarding immigrant issues. Her days are filled with caring for her family and keeping up with her community.  A hard working caretaker in action, indeed.

– Marn Steinwand
– Photography by Brianna Norby