Isanti County mourns loss of Commissioner Southerland

Larry Southerland spent his life as a public servant working for the people that mattered the most to him — his constituents of his lifelong residency in Isanti County.

Southerland, who was raised in Braham, served in the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department beginning in 1971, and later was elected sheriff for three terms, from 1990 to 2002. He then was elected Isanti County commissioner for four terms, from 2002 until the time of his death on March 19, 2014, at the age of 63 following a brief, but determined, battle with cancer.

The Isanti County community and beyond have been mourning the death of Southerland, who was serving as District 2 commissioner representing the city of Braham, as well as Dalbo, Maple Ridge, Springvale, Stanchfield and Wyanett townships.

Larry Southerland
Larry Southerland

Hundreds of people attended Southerland’s visitation March 23, as well as his celebration of life service held the next day at the Braham Area Community Center. Many people commented it was fitting the first funeral service held at the Center was Southerland’s, since the Center was one of the many things he was passionate about.

Speaking at the celebration of life were Southerland’s close friends Greg Korstad, Ralph Sheppard, Isanti County Sheriff Bill Guenther, Isanti County Chief Deputy Chris Caulk and Isanti County Board Chairman Mike Warring. Each had their own unique story and perspective to share on Southerland’s life.

During Southerland’s role as county commissioner, he had a focus on transportation, public safety and job growth. He was a strong advocate for the multi-county Northern Lights Express Passenger Rail Alliance Planning Committee, the Local Collaborative, the Isanti County Ag Society (Fair Board), the Braham Community Center and preservation of the Historic St. John’s Lutheran Church of Bradford. In 2004 Larry received the Isanti County Human Rights Award.

“When Larry was hospitalized down at Abbott Northwestern and I would be talking to him on the phone, he would always remind us to not forget about the city of Braham and the District 2 constituents he represented,” Isanti County Administrator Kevin VanHooser said. “He really cared about his district and always stressed that with others. Besides County Board, Larry was on more than 20 committees – that doesn’t include the community groups he loved helping, such as the Grandy Lions, Braham Area Community Center and St. John’s Historic Church of Bradford. Larry truly treated everyone with respect and civility.”

Southerland was well-known as a charitable person and especially for establishing and operating the Sheriff Larry Southerland Celebrity Golf Tournament for more than 10 years, bringing well-known sports figures to the community to raise money on behalf of worthy causes.

During Southerland’s law enforcement career, he was involved in chairing the Advisory Board to the Lino Lakes Regional Treatment Center, serving as a district director of the Minnesota Sheriffs Association and serving as president of the Sheriff’s Youth Program of Minnesota, among his many activities.

“When I think of my friend Larry Southerland, I think of his large heart for service,” Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said. “I had the honor of serving as an elected official with Larry for almost 20 years.

“When I was in my first term as Isanti County Attorney, I always appreciated his willingness to provide advice and guidance to me based upon his experience as an elected law enforcement leader. It was during this time that the foundation was laid for the excellent working relationship and partnership that my office has today with the Isanti County Sheriff’s Department. Larry was one of those larger-than-life individuals and someone who I will always miss,” Edblad said.

Guenther, who has known Southerland since he became a Braham Police officer in 1981, joined the Isanti County Sheriff’s Office in 1987 and worked with Southerland during his duration as sheriff.

The Isanti County Board of Commissioners held a moment of silence March 19 prior to its meeting in honor of the passing of Commissioner Larry Southerland earlier that morning. Chair Mike Warring read a brief statement saying the board was “saddened by the passing of a good friend.” Pictured next to Warring is Commissioner George Larson.
The Isanti County Board of Commissioners held a moment of silence March 19 prior to its meeting in honor of the passing of Commissioner Larry Southerland earlier that morning. Chair Mike Warring read a brief statement saying the board was “saddened by the passing of a good friend.” Pictured next to Warring is Commissioner George Larson.Photo by Jon Tatting

“During that time, he started up Isanti County’s first formal field training program for newly hired deputies and put me in charge of it. We still use that program today,” Guenther said. “He also allowed us to form a SWAT team and promoted the first patrol sergeants. I was part of both of these, so he must have trusted my abilities, and I have always appreciated that.

“His favorite part of being sheriff was the public relations side of things. He always made sure the office was represented at all of the local county functions and celebrations, and he jokingly told me numerous times to make sure that his picture was readily available,” Guenther said.

Guenther said Southerland always supported the sheriff’s office.

“He would ask a lot of questions and propose other ideas, all with trying to be more efficient and save money, but in the end he was always on our side,” Guenther said. “I had always called him, ‘boss,’ and at one board meeting  when I was the sheriff, I addressed him as that and Commissioner Susan Morris overheard this and got a laugh out of it. I always liked Larry and had a healthy respect for him.”

Caulk met Southerland after joining the Sheriff’s Office in 1998, and one of the first things they did together was volunteer at a pancake breakfast for The Refuge Network.

“I really appreciated the fact that Larry wanted to make sure the Sheriff’s Office was visible and approachable to the public; community-policing was a focus of Larry’s, and we continue that today,” Caulk said.

“One of things Larry never knew that he was teaching me was about the preciousness of time. During a visit to Larry’s home while he was sick, he was monkeying around with some clocks that didn’t work. It reminded me about the importance of time and how short life can be. No matter how rich you are, or how poor you are, you can’t go back in time. You need to view it as a blessing. Larry had no idea how much I appreciated being with him during that visit to his home. I was just honored to have had some time alone with him prior to his passing,” Caulk said.

Warring reflected on his first county board meeting in May 2011.

“I remember sitting down and being a little nervous about being the new kid on the block,” Warring said. “I remember Larry was sitting next to me, and he turned to me and said, ‘Warring, you’re going to be OK.’ Larry always called me by my last name. Once in while, he would call me Michael if we were disagreeing on something, and say to me, ‘Michael, I think you may want to rethink that.’ Even though we joke about how Larry wasn’t a morning person, he always came to County Board meetings prepared, with all his documentation and research in front of him. He will be missed.”