Al Larson, Schaumburg village president for 32 years, dies at 85

Across  32 years as Schaumburg’s village president, Al Larson was the rare suburban leader whose name became synonymous with his community.

During his time at the helm of his northwest suburb, Larson oversaw the continuation of the village’s residential growth — in 2020, Schaumburg numbered 78,723 residents — and he worked to give his community a variety of amenities and attractions, including Town Square, the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center and the Wintrust Field baseball stadium. He also signed off on the village’s 1994 purchase of the Schaumburg Regional Airport to prevent it from being sold to developers.

Larson, 85, died of natural causes on March 19, according to the village of Schaumburg. He had lived in Schaumburg since 1969.

Born in Chicago, Alan L. Larson grew up on the North Side and graduated from Lane Technical High School in 1956. He later earned an associate’s degree from Harper College in 1972.

Larson worked for a time in a factory and later as a real estate agent. In 1969, he moved his family from the Northwest Side to Schaumburg.

“I loved the farms, I loved the openness,” Larson told the Tribune in 1995, in explaining why he moved to Schaumburg.

His first foray into politics came the following winter, when Larson was unhappy that his cul-de-sac was not being plowed and he decided to write a letter to the village. He received a reply from country singer and then-Village President Bob Atcher, and Larson soon joined Atcher’s Schaumburg United party, serving as the village’s head of public relations and, starting in 1974, on its Zoning Board of Appeals and on its Environmental Committee, including as the latter panel’s chair.

In 1975, Larson was elected to the first of three terms as a village trustee. His time as a trustee coincided with explosive residential and business growth, as the village’s population grew from 18,724 in 1970 to 68,586 in 1990. He also separated himself from the Schaumburg United party, deciding to become a political independent — and the lone political independent on Schaumburg’s Village Board — in 1983.

In 1987, Larson decided to run for village president to succeed the retiring Herb Aigner. He handily defeated a Schaumburg United opponent, ending that party’s 30-year grip on the village’s leadership.

Elected to eight four-year terms, Larson built a reputation as a tireless advocate for his village, including meeting frequently with business leaders, attending local fests and penning sometimes-acerbic campaign newsletters. However, he saved his biggest ire for those who held up the name “Schaumburg” as a pejorative way to describe the alleged sameness of the suburbs.

“People come to Schaumburg, they see the Woodfield Shopping Center and the office tower,” he told the Tribune in 1996. “But we have 80 miles of bike paths, the Prairie Center for the Arts, outdoor concerts, a ballet troupe, our village swans have names. I don’t think people understand what Schaumburg is about. They drive in and out of our retail center. To say that we have no sense of community, that to me is the height of arrogance, to cast judgment on a community you know nothing about. There is this mindset that in sterile suburbia, no one knows anyone. Sunday soccer fields are packed. On Saturdays in the summer, cul-de-sacs and streets are cordoned off for parties.”

Larson was part of the village’s effort to create Town Center, at the corner of Roselle and Schaumburg roads, which now has stores, restaurants and the village’s library.

“There is this myth that we are developing a downtown out of nothing,” he told the Tribune in 1996. “It was always here. Schaumburg was a crossroads community. It wasn’t just barren fields. It was a center of commerce for Schaumburg Township.”

And Larson oversaw the village’s purchase of the 120-acre airport in 1994, thereby preventing developers from turning it into an industrial park.

“That is an asset as an airport rather than an industrial park,” he told the Tribune in 1996. “That will have an impact on corporations looking to relocate. That decision (to buy and improve the airport) bodes well for the future. How many communities have airports?”

Also on Larson’s watch, Schaumburg and the village’s park district teamed up in 1998 to construct what now is known as Wintrust Field, a baseball stadium currently used by the independent Schaumburg Boomers. The village gained sole ownership of the stadium in 2019.

Later in Larson’s tenure, he and his colleagues reacted to the loss of Motorola Solutions’ headquarters, after the firm relocated to Chicago and vacated its massive campus in Schaumburg. Larson helped sign off on the redevelopment of the campus with the mixed-use Veridian development.

Larson was “a man who dedicated more than 40 years to a life in public service with the sole purpose of making Schaumburg the best it could be,” current Schaumburg Village President Tom Dailly said in a statement.

“Al Larson instilled in me that Schaumburg should always strive to be more than bricks and mortar, blacktop, and concrete,” Dailly said. “Al was and always will be synonymous with Schaumburg and the progress he created.”

Larson’s love of the arts and cultural affairs led his colleagues on the Village Board to vote unanimously in 2017 to rename the village’s Prairie Center for the Arts after him. Larson also served as a board member of the Arts Alliance Illinois.

Larson decided not to run for reelection in 2019, leaving village government after 44 consecutive years of service.

Larson is survived by his wife of 60 years, Nancy; two sons, Michael and David; three daughters, Elizabeth, Catherine and Jennifer; 12 grandchildren; and his sister, Lorna.

Services were held.

Bob Goldsborough is a freelance reporter.

Source link


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *