As the youngest of four children in a small rural town in Minnesota, Neal Larson grew up in a tight-knit circle where hard work and putting family first were cherished values.
Larson, 58, hails from a farm in Dalton, where he spent his grade school years in a one-room schoolhouse. His parents were farmers until he was a senior in high school, when his father took over the local creamery and his mother became interested in nursing.
“She started working as a nurse aide, and she worked until she was 80,” he says.
When Larson decided to become a nurse, it set him on a rewarding personal and professional path that has culminated in being a senior executive at Bethany Retirement Living in Fargo and the treasurer at NADONA. Larson served two terms on the NADONA executive board, and has been the president of the NADONA North Dakota chapter.
“He was the most effective president we had at NADONA,” shares former co-worker Margaret Dahl, RN. The two worked together for 14 years, and Larson says he sees her as a mentor.
“Neal is about as level a person as I’m ever going to meet,” Dahl says. “He said to me once, ‘Margaret, if I’m angry, you’ll see it in my eyes.’”
But his low-key persona doesn’t mean he isn’t thoughtful and compassionate, Dahl emphasizes.
“He’s a very caring person with a strong love of family and God,” she says.
While Larson is thankful for 26 years at Bethany and for his work with NADONA, he says he’s proudest of his relationships with his family, which includes daughter Katie, 26, who is a nurse. He and his wife, Kalynn, met when both were nurses at St. Ansgar’s Hospital. They have been married since 1985 and today she is a chief nursing officer in Detroit Lakes, MN.
“We were best friends, and we still are,” he says. The majority of the couple’s spare time in the spring and summer is spent in their yard, as they share a love of gardening and sitting in a semi-enclosed pergola added to their house. They also enjoy traveling, with recent trips being to South Carolina, Arizona and Las Vegas.
That’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. In 1993, the couple, not wanting to raise their daughter as an only child, made the decision to adopt a 5-year-old boy from Ukraine.
“We were very driven to be parents,” he says. While Charlie, now 25, transitioned and quickly learned English, he has had lifelong emotional challenges, his father says. He’s “now re-establishing his life,” Larson adds.
“We had to draw a line in the sand and say these are what the expectations and our family values are,” he says. “Now, we hear him talking about what we have done for him. For us, what we’ve always said to both of our kids is we want them to be happy, healthy, productive members of society.”
Throughout ups and downs, Larson says he draws comfort from his family and his belief in God.
“When we thought we were going to hit a closed door, another one opened, and because of that we are better people today,” he says.
Completes associate of arts degree and LPN certificate at Fergus Falls Community College
Completes associate’s degree in nursing at North Dakota State University
Serves as assistant director of nursing, and then director of nursing, at Moorhead Health Care Center
Starts at Bethany Homes in Fargo as nursing resource coordinator
Debuts as president of North Dakota NADONA
Begins as corporate compliance officer at Bethany Homes
Named NADONA of North Dakota Nurse Administrator of the Year
Starts as director of resident care at Bethany
Promoted to senior executive — Medicare & Contracted Services, at Bethany
Becomes NADONA treasurer