Sandra Larson: “Your Contributions Count”
Sandra Larson (BA ‘59, political science), winner of CLA’s 2022 Alumni of Notable Achievement Award, has demonstrated her commitment to community for decades. She looks back on her “stimulating” time at the University of Minnesota and talks about her wide-ranging work in the political, corporate, literary, and nonprofit spheres.
What do you do professionally?
I am retired. My last two professional jobs were as Development Director for the Minnesota Planetarium Society and, prior to that, I was the developer, incorporator, and Executive Director of the ADC Foundation, the ADC Telecommunications Company’s charitable arm whose giving spanned the globe. My work with the Minnesota Planetarium Society helped keep alive its astronomy programs and leadership that led to the Society and the Bell Museum coming together to build the University’s new Whitney Planetarium within the Bell Museum.
My proudest achievements were in 1972 establishing a rape and sexual assault counseling center, the second one in the country, which was followed by conceiving and funding the first rape and sexual assault victim advocate position within the Hennepin County Court system. I'm also proud of having, in 1983, incorporated a nonprofit management consulting service which was founded on the use of professional volunteers. I built that organization for fourteen subsequent years, establishing it as the largest such nonprofit in the country.
How are you involved in the community?
Besides many volunteer jobs with nonprofits and schools, I have been a lifelong political activist, having, for example, run as an endorsed candidate for the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1976—one of the few females to have done so in those days. I was the volunteer coordinator for my senate district during the presidential election year of 2004.
Now I have moved away from door knocking and the like, mostly offering contributions to candidates I endorse. I’m also active in the poetry world in Minneapolis and St. Paul and, as of this past January, the president of the board of my homeowners’ association.
How did your time in CLA inspire you to pursue your path?
I discovered US constitutional law and found an interest in the legal profession under the tutelage of my university professor and advisor, Howard Chase. His passions helped me funnel my interest into politics and community service.
This newfound focus led me to Georgetown Law School where, because of the lack of childcare resources, I had to withdraw just as I was starting out. But, I switched the next year to a two-year graduate program in social work and community program at the University of Maryland which was so important for my ongoing work in managing charitable nonprofits throughout my career.
Also, having the esteemed poet Alan Tate as a professor my senior year at the U deepened my interest in poetry. Writing and publishing poems has been my avocation since the 1980s. The University was invaluable to me in so many ways!
What is your favorite memory from your time as a student?
Arriving at the University for my senior year as a married woman, my memories turn back, not toward chumming with fellow students on the quad or in Dinkytown, but marveling at the vast campus and the diversity of the University’s student body. And who could forget Mulford Q. Sibley leading rallies and stirring us to change the world? It was all so stimulating!
What advice would you give to current CLA students?
Don’t panic if your career goals aren’t clear to you as you don your cap and gown. Focus on what interests you and the kinds of efforts and work that satisfies you. Do take risks and accept opportunities that might help you fully develop your career, even if at first your path isn’t clear. Hone your imaginative skills, don’t accept the status quo, and work to improve whatever world you work within. Whatever you do, give it your all. Always keep in mind, your contributions count.
How do you spend your free time? What "fills your cup"?
Retirement hasn’t turned out to offer me much free time, as I am currently working more than half-time as president of my homeowners’ association and, before this job, my various community volunteer activities have kept me busy. Furthermore, I try to stay connected with family and friends, travel if I can, meet with my poetry colleagues, and, of course, write poems—my beloved avocation.
What was your reaction to receiving this award?
Disbelief and a sense of gratitude.
What's next? What are your personal/professional goals for the next five years?
At almost 86 years of age, I am working on keeping fit just to up the chances that I will still be here in five years. Did I mention I am a swimmer? I’m working to complete at least one more book of poetry (my seventh volume is coming out this fall) and finishing a tome I’m writing on my family’s genealogy. Of course, I plan to stay active in helping family and friends as much as I can.