Charlie Larson – Friend to Many in Our Industry
Charlie Larson, a long time leader of the California pallet industry, passed away on November 12. Charlie died like he lived – with a golf club in his hand.
By Ed Brindley
Date Posted: 2/1/2009
Charlie Larson, a long time leader of the California pallet industry, passed away on November 12. Charlie died like he lived – with a golf club in his hand. All of us have a few people in our lives who make a special impression and greatly influence us. For me Charlie was one of those people. My life was enriched by the opportunities that I had to share time with him.
I met Charlie during my first trip to the West Coast at a regional pallet meeting in September of 1977. I had been working with the pallet industry in Virginia and the Mid-Atlantic region for about six months and had never been exposed to the western pallet industry and its differences. When I met Charlie, it was friendship at first sight, a relationship that has carried through since that day.
Charlie was survived by his wife Joanne, two children Susan and David, and two grandchildren Christie and MacKenzie. Charlie grew up attending local schools and working in his family business, Larson Ladder. Returning from WWII as a decorated combat veteran, he attended San Jose State where he met Joanne.
Charlie helped Larson Ladder mature and later founded and grew Larson Pallet Company. His two children worked at his side as the team grew the company and eventually sold it to Mark Hoffman.
David Larson provided me with memories that he had shared about his father at the funeral. Much of this article comes from David’s thoughts.
David said, “A lot of things stand out about my father and his legacy; his individuality, his common sense, and how he knew the importance of being a good friend to those in need.” I second these observations, especially about his willingness to be a good friend. Charlie cared deeply about others. David continued, “Charlie did most of the normal things one would do in a lifetime and then some more and then some more again.”
Charlie was born in August, 1926 to hard working parents. His formative years were spent in the foothills of San Jose. From about the time he was out of diapers, he was setting a rigorous pace of his own choosing. At the age of 12, Charlie had his own everyday trap line. He caught small animals, skinned them, and sold their pelts and meat to the local merchants. Hearing this story about Charlie for the first time did not surprise me in any way.
Charlie attended San Raffle’s Military Academy to complete his high school education. At fourteen he was issued a special drivers license so he could commute back and forth from school on weekends. Charlie used his license to take full advantage of one of his life’s passions, hunting and fishing. Charlie honed his story telling skills by absorbing the stories about the lives and dreams of his elders at the Grey Ranch. Most of these men were successful well-known businessmen in the Santa Clara Valley. They were some of the old time pioneers that helped shape the Santa Clara Valley in the early part of the century; they were colorful people with some great stories.
When Charlie graduated from the Military Academy in 1944, World War II dominated the world. Charlie soon found himself fighting for his life and country in face to face combat with the Japanese in the Philippines. Charlie’s outdoor skills served him well and may have saved his life on a number of occasions. He came home a seasoned veteran to help run the family business, the Larson Ladder Company.
During his service, Charlie saw pallets being used to move vast quantities of materials. He recognized that pallets represented a logical use of discarded wood that did not make the grade for ladders. He convinced his father and started the pallet division of Larson Ladder.
Charlie entered San Jose State in 1947 to further his education and abilities. In an English class he met Loraine Joanne Hoffman, his lifelong sweetheart. They fell in love and were married on August 24, 1948, a loving marriage that lasted a lifetime. Charlie dropped out of San Jose State to work full time in the family business. In 1950 they became proud parents of their daughter Susan; 18 months later their son David was born. Since 1954, the couple lived happily in their house by the San Jose Country Club.
The agriculture business was booming in the valley so Charlie saw the need for diversifying the ladder business again, this time with a bin division.
In 1962 Charlie purchased a rugged quarter section of undeveloped land in the nearby Uvas Canyon so he could be close to his passion of the outdoors. Here he introduced his family to hard and satisfying work. There were prune orchards to be picked, roads, bridges and fences to build and mend, horse corrals, barns, foaling pins and a house with electricity to be built. Virtually single handedly, he, Joanne and their young family spent the next eight years on the weekends developing this property.
When the children were about to graduate from high school, Charlie and his father no longer saw eye to eye, and Charlie felt it best to leave the family business and start anew. So Charles Louis Larson at age 42 founded the Larson Products Company that would eventually become the Larson Pallet Company. His customers demanded custom sized pallets with little or no lead-time. This need for speed and service is the tenet on which Larson Pallet was built. Over the next decade Charlie produced wooden pallets in a rented building and built up reserves, hoping that some day he could purchase his own property and manufacturing facility. During this time, Charlie was honored by his peers when they selected him as President of the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association. This was when Charlie and I met, and he started impacting the products that would come out of Industrial Reporting, Inc.
Susan and David both came to work with their father after they finished college. It was Charlie’s insight at an early stage in the young business to gift equal shares of minority company stock to both children. This proved to be a very unselfish and wise move in the family’s history. On track with Charlie’s dreams, Larson Pallet Company opened a custom built manufacturing facility in Milpitas in 1979.
Urged and supported by his offspring, in 1980 Charlie introduced reconditioned and recycled wooden pallets. The recycling service allowed Larson Pallet Company to remove solid wood waste from landfills and directed it into products that justified reuse of the fiber. After another successful decade, Charlie retired on his 65th birthday in 1992. He graciously stepped down from the everyday grind of running a deadline manufacturing business and passed the baton to his children.
Charlie was a multidimensional character; not all his direction was pointed to the business world. He once said, “business is the fundamental means to enjoy and create life’s real value – bonds and friendships.” David said, “Did Charlie ever have a circle of friends! Charlie took on the role, ‘the life of a party.’ He was good at it, and always came up with an appropriate story just at the right time.” I will always cherish the times that I shared with Charlie.
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