Paul (PJ) Larson

1913 — 2009

by Mel Soderstrom

Paul Larson, PJ as he was called by many, lived a long and full life. He was born on a farm, Illinois near Paxton, Illinois, on November 10, 1913. He graduated from Paxton High School in 1931. Paul’s father, Philip, a student at North Park in 1899, encouraged Paul to attend North Park. After graduating in 1933, he continued at the University of Illinois where he earned both a Bachelors and Master’s degree in Journalism.

Paul was inquisitive and wanted to see the world. In May, 1940, he signed up as a deck hand on the Swedish cargo ship MIS Dagmar Salen out of Stockholm sailing to Japan and the Philippines. Paul boarded in Tacoma, Washington. Three months and 14,204 miles later he landed in Long Beach, California. During this trip he traveled past the Aleutian Islands and landed in Yokohama, Japan and Manila in the Philippines. At 26, he saw a part of the world that he had read about in books and articles, and during this trip he experienced both the roughness of sailor life and the hard work required on a cargo ship. The rest of the crew had not worked with a college guy like Paul before and nick-named him “Professor.” He recorded his travels in the letters he sent back to his parents and his brother.

Paul began teaching English at North Park in 1941 and retired in 1976. During his career at North Park he was chairperson of the Department of Language and Literature and advisor to the College News, the student staff of the year book, and of a literary publication called Pegusus. He was a key member on a number of academic committees preparing for launching when the four-year college in 1958. Paul often spoke about the long committee meetings and the frequent, lively debates that took place during those sessions.

Paul and Gladys were married in the home now owned by Charles and Sharon Peterson at 5226 N. Sawyer Ave on March 20, 1943. E. Gustav Johnson, a colleague in the English Department, was Paul’s best man and Algoth Ohlson former President of North Park performed the service. The couple met at a North Park faculty meeting and were married nearly 66 years of Paul and Gladys were both hired to teach in the English department.

Paul and Gladys spent 19 winters in Sedona, Arizona. They loved the Southwest and eagerly learned about the Native Americans of the area both past and present who added to Paul’s appreciation for the earth and the natural world. Paul had a love for the environment—especially the grasslands of central Illinois. Because of a significant gift to the Nature Conversancy, the Paul and Gladys Larson Woodlands were established—180 acres that will be preserved in their natural state forever. This gift to the Conservancy added meaning and purpose to the Larsons during the last ten years of their time together. Inscribed on a stone marker erected on the woodlands, are the words of William Cullen Bryant: “The Groves were God’s first temples.”

Paul was a craftsman as well as a man of language and literature. He did not throw much away. He kept things for a long time, like his 1992 Mercedes with 201,000 miles. Paul and Gladys enjoyed almost sixty-six years together canoeing, hiking, and sleeping under the stars. North Park has been much blessed by PJ’s legacy. Peace to the memory of Paul Larson.

Melvin Soderstrom, a friend to many, lives in Chicago.

See all articles by Mel Soderstrom