Featured Resident – Lois Larson
Wanda Lois Larson was born in Sioux City, Iowa. She was the only child of Frank and Libbie Zahnen. Growing up Lois enjoyed playing with her constant companion, a German Shepherd named Prince. Prince was the son of Rin Tin Tin in the movie series. Lois started taking piano lessons at the age of four. She was singing solos in kindergarten. Lois enjoyed going to school and loved music. As Lois grew up, she was recruited by her mother’s chapel to play piano for them.
Lois was classically trained in piano and voice. She auditioned for her high school choir as a sophomore and made it into the First Choir. She also accompanied on piano for the Second Choir. Lois played clarinet in the Marching Band. She was a soloist in the Presbyterian Church choir. She played in a forty piano ensemble for a Masonic Temple concert. She graduated from Central High School in Sioux City, Iowa.
She tried working retail but it wasn’t for her. So she attended Briarcliff College studying voice and piano. After two years, she transferred to Iowa State Teacher’s College (now University of Northern Iowa). She received a Bachelor degree in Music Education.
Lois took a job teaching music to grades K-12 in Odebolt, IA. She transferred to Sac City, Iowa and taught Junior and Senior High Choir. She got the whole school involved doing musicals which she directed. (Home Ec made the costumes. PE taught the dancing. Drama teacher helped with acting.)
After two years, Lois moved back to Sioux City and taught middle school music. She also organized and directed a teacher’s chorus. Lois became the soprano soloist at the First Baptist Church. A friend, Roger, was the tenor soloist. The choir needed more men so Roger brought his friend, Darwin, who sang bass. Needless to say the bass singer became interested in the soprano soloist. They started dating and married within the year. She taught school and he was finishing his business degree on a GI bill.
Darwin got a job with Western Contracting while they were building the Oahe Dam near Pierre, South Dakota. Lois resigned teaching in Sioux City and moved to Pierre. She got a job teaching middle school music and English. She directed the choir at the Congregational Church as well as sang for the governor’s Christmas parties and other events.
Darwin took a civil service test and got a job as a National Bank Examiner. They moved to Chicago. While in Chicago, they started their family. Eric (who lived four days) was born in 1959, Randi in 1960 and Rika in 1961. The family moved several times over the next few years – Cedar Rapids, Mason City then Cedar Falls and their son, Ryon, was born in 1964. Lois sang for weddings and funerals and did accompanying in churches in every town they lived. Darwin took a job as Vice President of a bank in Wakonda, SD. Lois taught music for all grades K-12 for thirteen years. She also gave private piano and voice lessons. She and another teacher organized practices for the All State Chorus and Lois accompanied them for close to twenty years. Lois retired in1995 and Darwin retired in 1996.
Darwin was diagnosed with cancer in 2003. The couple moved to Sturgis, SD, to be near Ryon, who could help care for this dad. During rally weeks, they would rent out plots of land for RVs to park. Lois also allowed some friends of her cousin to stay in their basement one year. Their house was just far enough away that the rally didn’t bother them too much but close enough they could sit in their backyard and watch the bikers go by. She said they bought their groceries two weeks in advance because they could not get to the grocery store during rally weeks.
Darwin passed away in 2005. Lois continued to live in Sturgis but during rally weeks, she would go and visit her girls, Randi in Spokane or Rika in Liberty. A friend of Lois got her involved with the Foster Grandparent program through the Sturgis School District. For the next eleven years, she was known as “Grandma Lois”. She was assigned one class for the entire year. Over the eleven years, she was assigned kindergarten, third and fifth grades.
In 2016, Ryon moved to Arizona. Lois stayed in her house but it became a challenge for her to keep up with it. The kids wanted her living closer to family. They started downsizing and planned for her to move at the end of the summer 2019. However, Rika discovered Westbrook and thought it was perfect for her mother. So the move was moved up and Lois arrived at Westbrook the end of May. She says she loves the location of her apartment with the patio that faces the quiet green space; the staff is very helpful, loving, kind and accepting and the residents are extremely welcoming and friendly. It’s a community and she enjoys being a part of it.
Lois believes it’s important to follow your dreams with a happy heart, accept challenges as tools for growth and have a sound spiritual base. She has lived her life this way. She is grateful for being part of a musical dynasty. It began with her teaching, singing and playing, her daughter, Rika, is extremely talented and is Director of Choral Music at Liberty High School and her grandson, Hans Heruth, continues the dynasty, having become a published composer at the age of 17. (His website is hansbridgerheruth.com if you want to check it out.) Lois states, “My family is my greatest pleasure!”