Bench placed outside Herman’s Bakery to honor beloved community member
By Elizabeth Sias
John E. Larson was well-known in the Cambridge community as a kind, friendly man who always had a smile on his face and a joke to tell.
On March 14, while enjoying his daily morning walk on vacation in Tempe, Ariz., John, 72, was tragically struck and killed by a driver who lost control of his vehicle.
A longtime resident of Isanti County, John could often be found at Herman’s Bakery, Coffee Shop & Deli, chatting with the ladies behind the counter, bakery regulars and friends.
To honor his memory, John’s wife of 52 years D. Liz Larson had a bench created that reads, ‘In Loving Memory of John E. Larson.’ Family members and friends of John and Liz gathered Friday, June 17, when the bench was placed outside Herman’s Bakery.
“I chose Herman’s not only because it was one of his favorite places — he had a bit of a sweet tooth — but because he enjoyed the camaraderie,” Liz said. “Sometimes he went there twice a day.”
Created by outdoor furniture and accessories manufacturer By the Yard based in Jordan, Minn., Liz explained that the official color of the bench is also fitting — ‘coffee.’
On the morning of his death, John and Liz were on vacation, staying at their usual hotel in Tempe, Ariz., where they had vacationed for 40 years. They had a core group of friends there who they met with every day to socialize.
John had gone on a morning walk every day for years, stopping on the way back at local restaurant PJ’s to grab a newspaper and a cup of coffee for Liz, who liked to sleep in. On the morning of March 14, Liz recalls waking up as John was leaving. He gave her the thumbs up before walking out the door, as if to say ‘I’ll be back in a bit.’
But he never returned from his walk that morning. Liz went back to bed, but remembers having trouble sleeping. She began to wonder why John hadn’t come back yet — he usually returned after about an hour.
She couldn’t get back to sleep, so she decided to turn on the TV. The local news happened to be on.
“It was about 7:30, when I thought he should be home, and it flashed on the TV,” Liz said, her voice cracking.
On the news, the headline read, ‘News Bulletin: Pedestrian accident on Baseline and Hardy.’ It was right along the path that John took every morning.
“It just hit me like a knife in my stomach,” Liz said.
She threw on some clothes, combed her hair and ran down to PJ’s to look for John, but he wasn’t there.
In her rush, Liz had locked herself out of her room, so she ran down to the office to grab a new key. The woman at the counter said John wouldn’t know Liz changed keys and wanted to give her two, but Liz told her John would be up at the room waiting with her coffee. But he was nowhere to be seen.
She ran back down to PJ’s and asked if anyone had seen John — he was a regular there, and everyone knew him by name. An employee told Liz, ‘Come to think of it, I haven’t seen him this morning.’
Liz started walking down Baseline Road, calling John’s cell phone, saying to herself ‘Please pick up, honey, please pick up, it’s an emergency, pick up,’ but John never answered. She turned around back to the hotel because she realized John wouldn’t be looking for her, and thought he must be back at the room by now. He wasn’t waiting in the room.
Liz saw a friend sitting by the pool and told her she couldn’t find John and he wasn’t answering his cell phone. She walked back with Liz to the hotel office, where she called the police. They asked her to describe what John looked like, and she said he’s about 6 feet tall, almost 200 pounds, gray hair and he had on a gray-blue walking suit and he wore glasses. She also told them about his usual walking path.
A police officer called back and told Liz they were sending over an officer for her to talk to.
They told her the grave news. John was struck and killed around 6:45 a.m. at the intersection of Hardy and Oxford Drives, south of Baseline Road. After hitting John, the driver left the scene and crashed into a retaining wall several blocks away.
Investigators learned that the 23-year-old male driver was inebriated and had been driving at 70 miles per hour. He later plead not guilty in court to second degree murder. He awaits a November trial.
She called her children, Tamara and Thomas, and they decided to fly down to Arizona to help their mother and arrange memorial service plans. He was cremated and a memorial service was held Saturday, March 19, at First Baptist Church with Rev. Bob Jonsson officiating. Rev. Earl Lassen and Rev. Bud Lynch also assisted.
About John Larson (Information from obituary)
Born July 20, 1938, John was raised on a farm in Bradford, Minn., along with his four brothers and three sisters. He enjoyed sports from a young age, and played both football and basketball at Cambridge High School. After graduation, he proudly served his country in the United State Air Force and Reserve.
On Dec. 27, 1958, he married his high school sweetheart Liz, and they enjoyed 52 years together. John and Liz are the parents of three children, Timothy, who passed away, Tamara and Thomas.
They vacationed for over 40 years in Arizona. It was the core of friends there that gave comfort and support to Liz until the children arrived from Minnesota. John and Liz also have five grandchildren who were his pride and joy, and he faithfully attended dance recitals, choir concerts, as well as other school and sporting activities.
He was a member of First Baptist Church in Cambridge for over 40 years, serving in Boys Brigade, Trustee, and more recently served as Head Usher various months.
He owned and operated his own barber shop in Cambridge for 17 years. In 1980 John sold his barber shop and became a licensed realtor. At the time of his death, he was still actively selling real estate at Main Street Realty in Cambridge.
John was extremely active in the Cambridge community. He was Chairman of the Board at MinnCo Credit Union, a member of First Baptist Church, Cambridge Lion’s Club, American Legion Post #290, Chamber of Commerce, and Toastmasters. He was passionate about saving lives, and over his lifetime he had donated over 22 gallons of blood to the American Red Cross.
The Bench ‘In Loving Memory of John E. Larson’
Liz said she doesn’t often think of the man who struck and killed her husband because it’s not worth her time, but she thinks John would want him to pay his penalty and see the man turn his life around, becoming a good father and good citizen.
Along with Herman’s Bakery simply being one of John’s favorite places, she chose to place the bench there so everyone could see it and use it.
“I wanted to give back to the community, and he was very community-minded,” Liz said. “A bench is something out there for everybody.”
Bakery owners Herman and Lois Oestreich said they were honored to have the bench just outside their door.
“John was like one of us at the bakery. We still look for him to walk in the door, smile and greet the girls behind the counter,” Lois said. “Herm and I are so honored to have this special bench in John’s memory, greeting our customers in front of the bakery. Losing John was a great loss to our community.”
Liz summarized what all knew about John, saying “He was just a common, friendly, outgoing person. He enjoyed people, and he was always pleasant, easygoing and kind.”
“He was a Christian man, and he lived it daily,” she added.
On Friday, June 17, John’s children, grandchildren and friends gathered to look at the bench at Herman’s Bakery and visit with family, sharing memories of John.
Herman and Lois Oestreich, owners of Herman’s Bakery:
“John was like one of us at the bakery. We still look for him to walk in the door, smile and greet the girls behind the counter. He would pick up the coffee pot in the coffee shop and fill our customers’ cups. He knew everyone and helped so many with their personal problems. Thank you Liz; Herm and I are so honored to have this special bench in John’s memory, greeting our customers in front of the bakery. Losing John was a great loss to our community.”
Thomas J. Larson, son:
“Often when I would call my father at his office I would get the response, ‘He isn’t here, he ran to the bank.’ It didn’t take long to figure out he was actually stopping in at the bakery for a cup of coffee with the guys. So when getting the typical response one day, I asked ‘Is he at the bank with the pastry counter?’ From that day on, the response was always, ‘He isn’t here, he ran to the bank with the pastry counter.’”
Andrew Larson, grandson:
“Every time we went to the bakery, before we left, grampsy would let us get a gum ball.”
Matt Larson, grandson:
“I remember going to Herman’s Bakery and we would all sit down and then five minutes later Grandpa would sit down. He just always had so many people to talk to, or ‘catch up with’ as he would tell us.”
Jenni Larson, granddaughter:
“I remember going to Herman’s Bakery with my Grandpa and being extremely fascinated with all the cookie jars. I was too young to recognize the people on them so he would point and say ‘That’s Elvis Presley,’ or ‘That’s the I Love Lucy crew.’ Everyone else would be sitting down for fifteen minutes before we got done observing.”
Tamara Burns, daughter:
“The bakery has always been a gathering place for my Dad’s family and friends. Over the years, I learned not to call my Dad during the week at 10:30 a.m. because I would be interrupting his ‘coffee time’ at the bakery. Our two children learned early in their lives that Grandpa liked to go to the bakery, and knew Grandpa would treat them to sugar donut holes and M&M cookies. Every Saturday morning, my Dad and his brothers, along with the other bakery regulars, were fixtures at the big table discussing the latest news.”
Sarah Burns, granddaughter:
“Herman’s Bakery has always had a special place in my heart. When I would go there with my Grandpa, I would feel like a celebrity. He literally knew everyone in the bakery, and would walk around the place introducing me to everyone. Whenever we went there, we were always greeted with a warm smile from everyone. I will always look back at Herman’s Bakery as a place with wonderful memories of my Grandpa.”
Ryan Burns, grandson:
“When I was little, my Grandpa always took me to the bakery when we were in Cambridge. He’d always get me my special sugar donut holes and then ask for an extra one to put a smile on my face. He always looked out for others before himself.”
Shirley Sanders, employee at Herman’s Bakery:
“I will always remember John walking through the bakery doors with a smile and a funny joke to tell.”
Nancy Erickson, employee at Herman’s Bakery:
“I remember John joining me on the bakery bench during my break. He always had a smile, a ‘Good morning, Nanc,’ and a good joke. Also, you always knew where John was going after his morning coffee. If he was going back to his office, he would buy ginger cookies for ‘his boss.’ If he was going to see the grandchildren, he would buy donut holes and M&M cookies. I’ve worked at Herman’s for 15 years. The people I’ve met and served are like family to me. John was one of those people.”