|David M. Larson.
Image Courtesy UofM.
MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (10/27/2014) —David M. Larson, retired Cargill executive and University of Minnesota regent, died Saturday (Oct. 25) at age 70. He lived in Wayzata, Minn. Larson is survived by his wife Janis, children David Lance (Leawood, Kan.) and Reid (Plymouth, Minn.), a granddaughter, sister Sandra Swartzmiller (Kalamazoo, Mich.); brother Paul W. Larson (Chicago, Ill.), nieces Nicole and Melissa, and nephews Stefan and Chris. Larson was preceded in death by his parents Helen and Marvin (Marv) Larson.
Shortly after Larson’s birth in Valparaiso, Ind., his family moved to Glenwood, Minn., where he spent most of his youth. Having been impressed with his family’s support of foreign students, Larson attended the University of Americas in Mexico City a year after starting at St. Olaf College. He finished his degree in political science at the University of Minnesota and became a lifelong advocate of that institution, eventually being elected a regent in 2005.
He joined Cargill as a trainee in 1966, and soon turned to Cargill’s feed business, serving in Kansas City, Mo., before a year of military service in Vietnam. When he returned, he managed Cargill’s Research Farm in Elk River, Minn., and was promoted to various management positions in Kansas City and Minnesota. In 1983 he was appointed president of the entire Feed Division, and in 1995 was president of Cargill’s Animal Nutrition and Poultry Group, which then operated in 22 countries. His predecessor, David Wentzell, credited Larson’s ability to understand the business, look critically at opportunities and effectively train new talent. Larson served the entire industry when he was named chairman of the American Feed Industry Association in 1990.
Elected executive vice president of Cargill in 1999, Larson became known for his advocacy of corporate branding, quality and employee engagement and recognition. Always passionate about Cargill’s talent, he wrote that “there is no more significant form of recognition than offering people trust, freedom and responsibility.”
Larson was a mentor to a number of key Cargill executives including its executive chairman Greg Page, who said of Larson, “He was a terrific coach to many of us. He believed that it was important for leaders to be other focused – for us that meant being focused on the success of our customers and employees.”
Todd Hall, a current member of Cargill’s Corporate Center who as a platform leader oversees many of the same businesses Larson led, praised Larson’s ability to bring out the best in people. “He always challenged me and had confidence in me to do what I thought was impossible,” Hall said. Larson was a member of the company’s Corporate Leadership Team and served on the Cargill Board of Directors.
After 44 years, Larson retired from Cargill in 2010, but he continued to seek ways to engage with the community. He served on the executive council of the Minnesota Historical Society, was a trustee of the board of National History Day and a year after his retirement, he was elected to a second term as a regent of the University of Minnesota where he served as vice chair from 2011-2013. He was a Board appointee to the University of Minnesota Foundation Board of Trustees, serving for 12 years. A long-time volunteer at the University prior to serving on the Board of Regents, he was an active member of the College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Advisory Board and volunteered for the University of Minnesota Foundation during Campaign Minnesota.
“The entire University of Minnesota community is saddened by the news that our friend and colleague has passed away,” said Board of Regents Chair Richard Beeson. “Dave was a passionate advocate for students, a strong proponent of efforts to increase employee engagement and a committed leader for the University. His legacy of service will long be remembered.
“We will dearly miss him, and our positive thoughts are with his wife, Jani, his children and their family,” Beeson said.
Larson had a deep love of the University and often said that higher education was the foundation for his successful professional career. Honoring that legacy, Larson endowed a scholarship at the University in 2008 aimed at addressing his concern about the rising cost of education for middle class families. Since its inception, the U has admitted 350 Larson Scholars. Thanks to Larson’s vision and generosity, this community of students has been able to follow their dreams, receive an exceptional education and graduate with minimal debt. A passionate Gopher football fan, Larson has also provided generous support to Gopher Athletics.
“Regent Larson’s service to this University has been remarkable,” said U of M President Eric Kaler. “He gave generously of his time, wisdom and philanthropy because he cared deeply for students and understood the power of education to change lives. I am fortunate to have known him and worked with him as a regent.”
A public memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, November 1 in the DQ Club Room, TCF Bank Stadium, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus. Memorials are preferred to the Coach Kill “Chasing Dreams” Epilepsy Fund, 1600 University Ave. West, Suite 300, St Paul, MN 55104. David Lee Funeral Homes, Wayzata (952-473-5577), will handle funeral arrangements.
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