By Nicole Zwieg
He has white hair and wire-rim spectacles. He enjoys making people smile and is constantly jovial. He is humble. He is giving. He always asks how you are and reads every letter that you send him. Santa Claus? Nope. It is the one-and-only, Norman Larson.
Another similarity between these two gentle and kind men is their sporadic visits. Unfortunately, Larson's pleasant disposition and giving nature won't be seen in the Journalism Department anymore after May. He is retiring after 32 years of teaching at St. Thomas. Larson is an icon throughout this St. Thomas department. He has taught classes from Newswriting to Contemporary Mass Communication to Press Law and many more.
In May, he wrapped up his final Public Relations Writing class of 19 students.
"I'm not excited about leaving," Larson said. "I just think it's time to go. I didn't want to make a big production of my retirement."
Of course, humble Larson wouldn't want to make a big production of his retirement, but many in the Journalism Department believe it is worthy of making a production. Larson is an accomplished educator who has enjoyed his job and made the roles others play enjoyable through his professional relationships with students, staff and faculty.
"Mr. Larson is one of the most caring and compassionate professors I have ever met. He is so professional and yet, cares so much about each of his students," said Stacey Kanihan, a journalism professor at St. Thomas.
When asked why he quit his career as a news reporter and copy editor of the Minneapolis Tribune, a position he held from 1963-67, Larson responded with one of his chuckles and smiles and replied, "I just love teaching." This is evident through his constant encouragement, time and assistance he puts forth toward every student.
"I have really liked teaching because through it I'm able to give back to my journalism profession," Larson said. "I enjoy all the personal interaction with students and enjoy teaching and learning with them."
During his career at St. Thomas, Larson has met thousands of students and been a part of dozens of changes at the university. For instance, Larson's first year was 1968 when ground was broken for the O'Shaughnessy Education Center, which now houses the Journalism Department.
"Earlier in my career here at St. Thomas, I was the adviser to the students who worked on The Aquin. Our office was in a dark and dingy room in the basement of Magnus Hall," Larson said. "The students endearingly called it 'The Pit' and all we had for equipment were manual typewriters."
Larson specifically noted the changes in technology that have taken place over the past decades. Ironically enough, though, Larson's personal computer with all of its "bells and whistles" sits next to an electronic typewriter on his desk, which Larson proudly says "some still use in the department to fill out those surveys and address envelopes."
Larson's ability to be a professor to students and yet, be their friend is both admirable and well respected. He believes that every person is unique and should be considered and treated as an individual. Larson exemplifies a man of "true understanding" in more ways than one.
"On the first day of PR Writing, Mr. Larson had us write out name cards," said Mary Leary, a junior at St. Thomas. "Every class since he has placed them in front of us so he can remember our names. I really appreciate that and think that it is commendable knowing that a professor wants to know my name."
While years have passed by, immeasurable changes have occurred, and faces have changed time and again, but Larson has remained the same mild-mannered and considerate person whom we all adore. Beginning in June, Larson and his wife, Judith, plan to retire to their home in Wisconsin. Spending time reflecting and noticing nature is something they both value.
"My wife and I are particularly interested in country living and our primary residence is in the hills of western Wisconsin about 45 miles southeast of the St. Thomas campus," said Larson. "We are avid birders and are environmentalists, who do all we can to preserve the land and wildlife."
I came into Mr. Larson's office on a Tuesday morning to interview him for this story with every intention of following the rules I had learned throughout my public relations curriculum -- I even had a list of five questions written on a blank pad of paper! Yet, after stepping into Mr. Larson's office and receiving his congenial and calming greeting and smile, I disregarded the questions and just sat to listen and delight in our conversation.
Mr. Larson is unique and isn't a "textbook case" in any aspect of his life. He doesn't bring tangible gifts wrapped in silver tinsel and red paper once a year. Rather, for 32 years he has brought and given a wealth of knowledge, understanding, genuine kindness and happiness to the students, staff, faculty and administration of St. Thomas.
(Courtesy of the UST Department of Journalism and Mass Communication)
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