Longtime Graham County resident Gene Robert Larson has made great strides with providing the tools to create a better life for people locally and around the world.
Due to many years of his contributions and efforts in bettering the community, the Graham County Historical Society plans to honor Larson with a Heritage Award at the Winter Annual Meeting and Symposium at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 29.
Harvey Dale John is a childhood friend and neighbor who lived very close to Larson’s family farm growing up. John said that Larson has devoted years of community services to Graham County, communities throughout Arizona and abroad.
“He’s been real instrumental in hiring young men growing up that went on to becoming very successful in their own endeavors,” John said.
Larson today is 92 years old and has been married to his wife Joyce for 71 years. They live on a multi-generation farm of 40 acres. They currently have 25 grandchildren and 75 great grandchildren.
He is the current the chairman of Graham County Planning and Zoning and has been shaping the vision and layout of the community for the last 40 years. Larson has also been involved with a myriad of construction projects over the years.
Larson said he had the opportunity to open up a mine in New Mexico that would have allowed him access to the finer things in life such as a new car and a new house, but he said despite the many opportunities that were open to him, there’s something that made him want to stay here in Graham County.
“It gets under your blood and you don’t want to leave,” Larson said.
Aside from putting in wells at farms in the area, Larson has spent a significant amount with mining work in Colorado and here in nearby Morenci at the former Phelps Dodge Mine.
“Like any of us here who grew up in the valley on farms, he worked on the farm and if you work hard, you develop a working skill and you knew the dedication and the principle of good work,” John said. “So he did that for 27 years.”
John said that Larson was one of the largest employers in the Gila Valley for a number of years in the construction business. The work that had been accomplished had been instrumental in gaining attention of other employers from other states that would try to solicit Larson to have him come work for their company.
Larson is a member of the LDS church and has gone on mission trips to help citizens with various projects to help those in developing countries. His main focus has been obtaining and tracking water from the snowpack of mountains.
He would help drill wells along with establishing a sanity water system and distribution in countries throughout South America and Africa, spending a significant amount of time in Bolivia.
With his inventive ways, Larson has also been involved in creating buildings that are common in New Mexico known as Earthships. Old tires were filled in with dirt among other natural materials as part of designing these buildings that rely on solar.
Larson attended Eastern Arizona College, known as Gila College at the time, for a half-year but continued to work on the family farm and got involved with construction. He coined his experience of working on the farm as the “school of hard knocks,” where his friends credit his hard work ethic.
Gene and Joyce would devote a little bit of time working at a local school, and that people would often ask what she did with rest of her time while he worked. They said they didn’t have a microwave, dishwasher, washer or dryer, all the while cooking three meals for the family a day.
“We didn’t have nothing, but we did have a telephone,” Gene Larson said.