Carole Larson invests $1 million in teaching to honor her late husband.
By Amanda Fretheim Gates
Newspaper people to their core, Don and Carole Larson have always been champions of community news. Don realized early on in his career that small cities on the outskirts of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area couldn’t afford to run their own city newspapers. He figured they could join forces instead. That’s why in 1963 he published the first issue of the Crow River News, which served not one, but five neighboring cities.
Don knew that if he could combine several cities into one newspaper, they “would become a force and they had power and they could unite,” said Carole, Don’s wife and business partner for 50 years.
The Crow River News was only the first. Because Don didn’t have a dedicated office space for the newspaper, he would show up at the local post office every Wednesday to collect people’s classified ads. Soon he started looking around for another newspaper to buy, not only to grow his business but also so he could have space to work. In 1966, he bought the Osseo Press, and renamed it the Osseo-Maple Grove Press, foreseeing the huge growth that was to come in the neighboring town. He finally had a home base.
Don and Carole both graduated from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication—Carole as an undergrad with a B.A. in journalism and Don with a master’s (and a B.A. in economics). However, they didn’t meet until after they were both out in the newspaper world.
After graduation, Carole worked at a suburban newspaper in Hopkins, Minnesota. The Crow River News was put on her desk, and after giving it a good read, she thought it was a great paper that dealt with the real issues faced by small communities. The two were introduced through a friend and became partners in life and business, going on to own more than eight Minnesota newspapers, plus newspapers in Iowa. They were also joint owners of Sun Newspapers, with newspapers that covered more than 15 suburbs around the Twin Cities, in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
While Carole ran the office, Don got out into the community, earning the trust and respect of the local businesses. Don would say a community was just like a person, Carole said. “You need to know what it is, what it wants and what direction it wants to take. He was out in the community learning these things. He was talking to the business people every day, and he knew what they felt.”
Gift of Teaching
Don and Carole have been long-time supporters of the School, having previously established the Don R. and Carole J. Scholarship. In 2006, Don received the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts Alumni of Notable Achievement honor, recognizing his work in the fields of journalism and business. After Don died in February 2016, Carole knew she wanted to do something significant in honor of him. She talked to Mary Hicks, principal gifts officer with the College of Liberal Arts’ Office of Institutional Advancement, and Al Tims, then-director, and learned of the need for more journalism professors.
The Don R. and Carole J. Larson Endowed Professorship was developed with Carole’s generous $1 million gift. “This is dedicated to Don because of his wanting to have a need fulfilled [at SJMC],” Carole said. This gift allows the school to hire another tenure-track faculty member, with additional resources to support research.
During his tenure as the School’s director, Tims came to appreciate how Carole and Don cared about advancing student success. The couple supported the School’s mission and understood the vital importance of journalism in communities and for democracy, he said. “We have benefitted from their informed engagement, insights, loyalty and generous, albeit quiet, philanthropy,” he said. “The Larson Endowed Professorship was established because Carole asked, in her typical straightforward manner, what might she do beyond their existing commitments to help recognize Don's achievements, bring immediate and lasting benefits for students and permanently advance the School's mission. This is a tremendous honor and spectacular opportunity.”
During the School’s annual Spring Showcase event on April 18, 2017, the School and the College of Liberal Arts honored Carole for her and Don’s contributions to the University. Dean John Coleman announced Carole’s induction into the Presidents Club’s Builders Society, which recognizes the Larsons’ cumulative giving over the years.