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Dick Larson began teaching general math classes at Pine River-Backus in 1993. He has since expanded to physics, chemistry, electronics, and other classes. He retired at the end of the 2014 school year. Photo by Travis Grimler

Larson had Goldilocks kind of career

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Dick Larson didn't arrive at Pine River-Backus School (PR-B) as a result of a carefully planned lifestyle. He arrived like Goldilocks sampling porridge until he found a place that was just right.

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Larson was born in Minneapolis, and though he graduated from Minnehaha Academy in Minneapolis, before his graduating year he had sampled three other school districts. His father was a minister, so they moved a lot.

"That was normal for us. We just got used to making new friends," Larson said.

Moving didn't end when Larson reached adulthood. His college years are full of samplings. He started with a year at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, followed by a year at Bethel University in St. Paul.

"Then I decided to explore vocations. I first took a position with an engineering firm out in Hopkins, Minnesota. I worked for them for two years in quality assurance in the engineering services department there," Larson said.

Next, Larson tried work at a church in Bemidji for three years, and then two other churches, followed by a return to college. After multiple lane changes, Larson graduated from Bemidji State University. He started his journey with a degree in music education in mind, but wound up with a degree in mathematics education..

"I realized that education and working with young people was what I was interested in, but the music is too much of a passion for me. That is probably a bigger passion than anything I teach. For me, it was hard to come to grips with the idea that kids in the classroom might not care as much about the music as I do. I can deal with that with chemistry and physics and math," Larson said.

With a degree under his belt, Larson didn't simply choose a job and stick with it. He began sampling again. He started student teaching in Brainerd, then taught and coached for one year in Akeley and one year at Crosby-Ironton before finally landing at PR-B High School in 1993 teaching general math in the high school and math and science at the Alternative Learning Center. Even while working, Larson didn't stop.

"I need to keep moving ahead. I'm a strong believer that the car is easier to steer if it is rolling," Larson said.

During his time at Brainerd, Larson took classes in Bemidji to complete a minor in physics. At PR-B, Larson worked to turn his physics minor into a physical science license, and by 2001, he completed a minor in physics and a minor in chemistry to complete a major in physical science.

Unlike so many years before, Larson stayed at PR-B until the completion of the 2014 school year, when he made his retirement official.

"As far as my career is concerned, I found my home here. This has been a great place to work. It's been fun to be part of really feeling like I helped pull the science department kind of out of the dark ages. I got a chance to do some of that, and some of that was because of the freedom that former teachers gave me. Randy Brueland was a firm believer that you will teach best what you enjoy," Larson said.

Larson said PR-B offers much that other schools don't, and perhaps this is part of the reason he remained so long.

"I do leave with a deep respect for the staff here at Pine River. I have said for many years I think the quality of the teaching staff here in Pine River is one of the best kept secrets in town. As I've gone from school to school, comparing what we've done here and what other schools are doing, we're definitely ahead of the curve in a lot of different perspectives. Curriculum wise. Facility wise. Karl (Flier), I really appreciate what Karl has done to keep this building the way it is," Larson said. "There are very few other schools that are like this. I hear that from other people when they come in to visit."

Larson intends to substitute teach during retirement, though he hopes to relocate to Ely. He also expects to help his three sons with business ventures and hopes to fish more. He likens leaving PR-B to jumping off a high dive for the first time.

"There's a little bit of that feeling of jumping off the board and hoping there's water at the bottom. But, I'm assuming I'm going to find just like then that I hit the water and the first reaction is, 'That's really fun, I have to do that again,'" Larson said.

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