Taking a look at educator Bill Larson's legacy as retirement nears
There are two words Dr. Bill Larson’s colleagues use to describe him: humble and dedicated.
Before coming to work at Ohio University, Larson wore many hats in the public school realm: coach, principal, administrative assistant, assistant superintendent and superintendent. He taught one course at OHIO in 1986, then became an adjunct professor in 1993, a lecturer in 2000, an assistant professor in the tenure track in 2010 and an associate professor with tenure in 2014. Larson is retiring at the end of December 2020, accumulating over 58 years of public service work, with 27 of those at OHIO.
“I feel very much blessed that my Maker has allowed me to keep going this long,” Larson said. “I feel like I worked in really good programs, and I’ve worked with very supportive colleagues. The University has been very nice to me, and I feel blessed.”
“Dr. Larson is a one-of-a-kind colleague and mentor. His positive professional and personal attributes are exemplary. Dr. Larson works tirelessly and has a way of motivating his co-workers to do their best work,” Linda Fife, director of OHIO’s Institute for Democracy in Education (IDE) within the Patton College of Education, said. “His extensive knowledge, rich sense of history and his ability to relate to others is truly a gift that I feel privileged to witness and learn from.”
Larson brought his educational practice to OHIO, and in 1994 helped create the Ohio University Leadership Project (OULP), an initiative directed at the professional development of school leaders in Southern Ohio. The idea originated at the time with the then-dean of OHIO’s Southern Campus. Larson has served as the director of OULP since the beginning.
OULP had 15 superintendents in the first cohort. Now, 26 years later, the program serves approximately 500 elementary principals, secondary principals, superintendents and treasurers, with two superintendent and two treasurer cohorts.
“Dr. Larson has had a positive impact on hundreds (probably thousands) of school leaders over the span of his career. He exemplifies the importance of building relationships with all stakeholders as one of the keys to succeeding and moving forward,” Fife said. “Dr. Larson is very humble and rarely takes credit, but deserves much credit for the longevity and success of OULP.”
“I have worked with Dr. Larson for 26 years. He has been a great colleague and friend to me,” Robin Boyd, OULP administrative assistant, said. “Bill Larson truly cares about people. OULP is a great networking opportunity for administrators around the area and beyond.”
Larson credits the success of OULP to the grassroots approach the program takes. Representatives of each cohort decide on topics and speakers for future OULP seminars, therefore addressing the professional development needs of administrators from Southern Ohio.
“[When the program started], it occurred to me that the way to make this popular was to involve the participants in deciding what the topics would be and who the speakers would be,” Larson said. “Since the topics for the seminars are based upon the suggestions of representative participants, I sense that the administrative functions of the participants have been enhanced in a substantive manner.”
Over the years, Larson does not think he’s missed many OULP seminars. He has introduced the speakers, made arrangements and worked out details for the seminars. His work has kept the program going for over two decades, continuing to provide relevant information for the needs of educational leaders.
“OULP is the primary service I offer, within the realm of research, service and instruction,” Larson said. “I like doing it because I was a practitioner for a long time, and so I relate fairly well to the practitioners attending.”
“Dr. Larson has responded to the needs of school leaders to provide needed and requested professional development opportunities in a more local setting. Networking with peers is also a critical component that is part of each OULP seminar,” Fife said. “Dr. Larson has seen this need and provided an opportunity for this critical interaction to occur.”
After Larson’s retirement, Fife will take over as the director of OULP. As director of IDE, she and Larson have partnered together on several occasions.
“I feel blessed to turn the leadership of the OULP to Linda Fife,” Larson said. “By having been a participant in and a leader of the OULP, she is extremely well situated to be its director.”
“I hope that the OULP will continue to thrive and meet the needs of the participants. With the assistance of administrative associate, Robin Boyd, the OULP will remain a valuable resource for area school leaders,” Fife said. “I wish Dr. Larson all the best as he starts this new chapter on his life’s journey. I hope he will find new things that bring him happiness and joy. Dr. Larson will be missed.”
Larson’s OULP legacy is felt not only with his colleagues, but also by the many students he taught over the years that are now educators.
“Dr. Larson used real examples of the Dr. Stephen Covey practice of ‘seek first to understand.’ Now, I encourage my staff to listen first — actively and intently listen. Dr. Larson taught us about ‘building a bridge’ and allowing us a connection to others, or sometimes giving the other person an out,” said David Ashworth, MED ’13, assistant principal at Ironton Elementary School.
“Dr. Larson's work ethic has always inspired me throughout my career. His strong guidance and belief in me as an administrator made a huge impact both personally and professionally. He is a truly remarkable educator who has made such a difference throughout our entire state. Although I wish all future administrators were trained through his program, I am very happy for Dr. Larson as he reaches this milestone,” said Angie Lafon, BSED ’00, MED ’06, principal of Dawson-Bryant Elementary School. “Congratulations and best wishes.”
“To say Dr. Larson positively impacted my education and career is an understatement. I consider Dr. Larson one of the single greatest influences I’ve had in my time as a student and as an educator, and I think even more highly of him as a person and friend,” said Circleville City School District superintendent Jonathan Davis, MED ’12. “I also know hundreds of others that think of him in this regard. Congratulations, Dr. Larson, and thank you.”
“Once you are a student of Dr. Larson’s, you have the wonderful benefit of always being under his wing,” said South Central Educational Service Center superintendent Sandy Mers, MED ’98 (elementary education), MED ’05 (educational administration). “His continued mentorship along with his kindness have had such a positive influence in my career. He is one of a kind.”
“I owe so much my success as an administrator to Dr. Larson. He has been a teacher, mentor and a friend. Dr. Larson helped me develop as an administrator and as a person. I will always cherish the fact that I was able to be one of his students,” said West Brown Local Schools District superintendent Raegan White, MED ’02. “Best wishes today and in the future.”
Larson is unsure what retirement will bring, but looks forward to the extra time with his wife, Nancy, and daughter, Sarah, and hopes to do volunteer work to serve others after the pandemic is over.