Virginia claire larsen, 81 – austin daily herald austin daily herald gas house gang


The Larsen family moved from Kenmare to Minot, North Dakota, in 1952. Virginia graduated from Minot High School in 1955 and from St. Olaf College with majors in English and French in 1959. During summer breaks from college, she worked as a reporter for the Minot Daily News and as a waitress on a Great Lakes vacation steamer.

After college, Virginia taught English for a year at the Martin-Luther-Schule in the village of Rimbach im Odenwald, Germany. She then spent nine months in Paris, working as an au pair for two families while she took classes at the Alliance Française. For the rest of the 1960s, Virginia taught French and German at the University of North Dakota, earned masters degrees from UND and the University of Wisconsin in French and German, and was briefly married to the artist Douglas Kinsey before returning to Rimbach to teach English and French.

In 1970, she accepted a position as an instructor of French and German at Austin State Junior College in southern Minnesota. Throughout her teaching career, Virginia proved an effective and transformative teacher for the students in her classes and won an award for Outstanding Faculty Member in 1990. When she wasn’t in the classroom, she was often planning or taking international trips, experiencing other cultures and immersing herself in foreign languages, and fed an insatiable curiosity about the world and the people in it. After 27 years teaching foreign languages, public speaking and interpersonal communication — with a year of leave spent in Madagascar in 1982–83 — Virginia retired in 1997 from what was then called Riverland Community College.

A few months after retiring, Virginia was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Despite decades of treatment and interventions, she refused to call it a “battle” until she neared the end. More than anything, she demonstrated how to live with cancer. In the decades of her retirement, she resettled her mother in Austin, Minnesota, providing loving care during her decline from Alzheimer’s. She continued her advocacy work, fighting for the rights of sexual minorities, quality of life for developmentally delayed adults and accessibility for the physically handicapped – work that was acknowledged with an award by the Austin Human Rights Commission in 2003. In 2006, her reputation as a mentor and a public resource led to a life-changing meeting. Virginia married Kirsten Lindbloom in 2008. In Virginia’s last decade, she and Kirsten created new adventures together in their shared zest for travel, entertaining and community service.

During her final years, Virginia poured much of her energy into translating a book of German stories, “Shadow Time,” calling its publication “one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.” She also published two books of personal essays, “The Book of Lurch” and “Saving Grace.” As her health became more challenging, her gifts as a writer blossomed; she leaves behind a partially completed memoir that will be released at a future date.

• When your dog poops on your neighbors’ lawn, have the dog write a note of apology: “Please forgive my recent deposit on your grass. Love, Nadou.” Make the dog donate part of her weekly allowance toward a check that is slipped into their mailbox;

• Fly a friend from Russia for a visit. Take her to the county fair so that she can marvel at “American peeggies” because “In Russia, peeggies yust peenky. In America, peeggies black with white spot! Peenk with black spot! Black with peenk spot! Beauuuuuutiful America peeggies;”

• Don’t be afraid to fill out a comment card. If you have already filled out multiple comment cards at the same place, it’s okay to make up fake names and addresses so the proprietors understand that many people in the community share your complaint;

• Put on a silver bracelet during a period of mission work and wear it for 36 years. Refuse to take it off for any medical procedure. Make the nurses cover it during MRIs and surgeries because you will not remove that symbol of your servant heart;

• Protect the planet. Save the animals. Feed the poor. Cheer for the underdog. Advocate for the oppressed. See the good in everyone. Love with intention. Express gratitude. Right your wrongs. Help every person you encounter see that they matter. Walk with wonder; and

Virginia is predeceased by her parents; her stepmother; and her brothers, Richard and Larry. She is survived by her wife, Kirsten; her brothers, Dan and John (Debbie); her niece, Maren (husband Dan, children, Austin and Ryan Eby, Andrew, Henry, and Appy Townsend); her nephew, Jason (wife Michele, children, Meghan and Nicholas); her sisters-in-law, Carol Larsen and Erika Pearson (husband, Chris, children, Jayme and Dustin); and hundreds of loving friends who will forever miss her dry wit at the dinner table.

Friends and family are invited from 7-10 p.m. on Friday, May 11, to the Austin Area Commission for the Arts (300 N. Main St.) for a time of sharing and storytelling — a kind of Midwestern Danish wake. There will not be a formal visitation as Virginia has donated her body to the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine. Her memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. on Saturday, May 12, at the Austin Congregational UCC (1910 Third Ave. NW).

Memorial gifts may be sent to the Austin Congregational UCC, earmarked for the Spirituality Center. Because Gin valued the work of the Center tremendously and took great delight in its birth, we would like her legacy to support the future growth of this community resource.