Galesburg Radio Personality
Benefit Concert Organizer
Business Administration Major
The kids in Lombard Middle School's band room are too busy buzzing --
doing exercises on their mouthpieces -- to notice the elderly gentleman
who stands in the corner, grinning.
But if it weren't for this man, Jack Larson '44, many of them might not be making joyful noise -- in this moment or any other.
For the past three years, Larson has organized benefit concerts for the music programs at Galesburg District 205 and Costa Catholic schools. Today more than 40 eligible children are playing instruments purchased with proceeds from the concerts.
"There are so many children who would love to be part of something but can't because of their economic situation," says Larson, 83, a lifelong Galesburg resident and longtime local radio personality. "I'm trying to give those students an opportunity to participate with their peers, to develop something that just might last a lifetime. Something to hang their hat on, so to speak."
Larson knows firsthand the value of learning to play music. As a young man, he taught himself to play percussion, and joined the orchestra while at Knox College. His son, John, a former band teacher who works for State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois, started the State Farm Employees Association music group. His grandson, Adam, 15, is a saxophone virtuoso who plays with professional musicians in a group called The Not So Big Band.
"I've seen how music has impacted their lives and helped them be successful," he says. "It requires and develops a certain amount of discipline, just as athletics or any other activity does. It makes them well-rounded."
Larson, who attended Lombard as a child and has long been a supporter of the school, thought for a few years about starting a music scholarship in honor of his wife, Martha, who died in 1997. But he changed his plans in 2003 after consulting with Dean Petrie, Galesburg District 205 fine arts coordinator, and learning of the number of students who wanted to be in band but couldn't afford to buy an instrument.
Larson recruited his son to bring the State Farm Employees Association group to Galesburg for a concert of Big Band music at the Orpheum Theatre, with the ticket proceeds going to local schools. The concert was so successful it has become an annual event, raising a total of $18,265 in three years for purchase of new instruments and restoration of donated ones. Of the 44 children who have received rent-free instruments, all but one have stuck with the program.
And sticking with it is something Larson believes in.
At a recent get-together at the home of Bob '45 and Beverly Lee Stoerzbach, a group of friends struck up an impromptu set that featured Larson on drums and Stoerzbach on clarinet.
"All of us there were in our 80's," Larson says with a laugh. "So when I say 'music can last a lifetime,' in many cases, it's true."