Ed Larsen: A silent leader who represented the Tribe well
Ed Larsen: A silent leader who represented the Tribe well
Tribal Elder Edward Earl Larsen Jr. is legendary on the Reservation for his kindness and huge heart and local residents know him affectionately as “Fast Eddie.”
Larsen, who served on Tribal Council from 1992 through 2004, owned the Spirit Mountain Store at the corner of Hebo and Grand Ronde roads before beginning his 12-year run on Tribal Council.
During the time he owned the store and served on Tribal Council, Larsen gained a reputation for giving and looking out for his friends, family and customers.
Larsen graduated from Willamina High School and became a logger and log truck driver like most everybody else his age. Like many other Grand Ronde Tribal members, he started working alongside his father at an early age.
“I started riding with my dad in the log truck when I was 8, 9 years old,” says Larsen during an interview at the Elders Activity Center in Grand Ronde. “I would get out and open the gates and put the chains up. I set chokers when I was a sophomore in high school when my dad had logging jobs.
“My dad was Chinook and French Canadian. He passed away in 1964. I started driving truck right after that.”
Ed’s mother was Verna Larsen (Riggs) and her mother was Lena Bobb (Norwest). Lena’s parents were Frank and Mary Norwest. Verna’s father was Lewis Riggs and Lewis’s parents were Solomon and Jennie Riggs.
Ed is the eldest of Verna and Ed Larsen Sr.’s six children. His sister, Jeanne Larsen, passed away in 2012, and his other sisters are Carol Larsen, who lives in Salem, and Susan “Susie” Gilliam, who lives in Dallas. His brother, Mike Larsen, passed away in 2013 and his other brother, Kenny Larsen, lives in Grand Ronde.
Ed has always taken great pride in being Native American and he said it was something he picked up from being around his father.
“He used to joke about it,” says Ed of his father. “When he played ball there was a pitcher named ‘Lefty’ Johnson – a Swede guy. He told the old man, ‘I got a dead Indian buried under the mound out here.’ My old man shot back, ‘When you throw that ball you better duck because there will be a dead Swede laying right on top of him.’ He was pretty witty. Mike and I used to joke that we got our mouth from the old man and our strength and perseverance from our mom. He was really strong.”
Ed says working with his father taught him a lot and that he has carried those teachings with him throughout life. He said he learned how to operate a cat and a yarder as well during his time working in the woods.
He continued to drive log trucks for Siletz Trucking part-time even when he owned the store. His late wife, Shirley, ran the store while he drove and took care of the business.
Ed spent more than 21 years dedicated to driving truck and 35 years dedicated to Shirley.
When the Tribe started the process of establishing Spirit Mountain Casino back in the 1990s when Ed was on Tribal Council, he was acknowledged as a key figure in the effort to win over West Valley residents and business owners.
He was nominated for his first run for Tribal Council by Tribal Elder John Mercier, who at the time was in his 20s.
“I remember it quite clearly because we used to go and visit him at the store,” Mercier says. “I didn’t even give it a second thought. Now, all these years later, I would definitely give it a second, third, 10th thought before I would ever nominate anybody. He was a thoughtful person and he showed me he could pull it off.”
Ed served as the Tribal Council secretary from 1994-95 and reached the vice chairman position in September 1996. He served as vice chairman off and on until 2000.
Ed might be as well known for his memory as his kindness. He remembers names and details of conversations and events years past. He has become a walking book of Grand Ronde Tribal knowledge.
“In many respects that is a good description,” Tribal Attorney Rob Greene says. “The thing that has always impressed me about Ed and continues to impress me about him is his phenomenal memory. He can remember the smallest details from so many years back, it’s incredible. Whether he was on the council or the board (Spirit Mountain Casino Board of Directors) he brought that same sharpness of mind to the issues and he would report back to the council the various things the board was considering.”
Greene said he first met Ed when he was on the board of directors at the casino and the property was opening.
“I think one of the things about Ed is he was comfortable in any situation in terms of his ability to communicate with people,” Greene says. “I attended a number of meetings with Ed and he was always very comfortable and I think made people who he was talking with feel very much at ease. He was a wonderful ambassador for the Tribe. He was excellent at that.”
Ed’s style of leadership was to bring everyone together.
“My way was to get it done and not fight about it,” Ed says of his time on Tribal Council. “My idea was to make it work whether it was my idea or somebody else’s idea. I think my strongest deal was getting along with people.”
Ed is also well known throughout the area for his fashion sense. He sports cowboy hats, leather jackets and big boots in a way that sets him apart from the crowd.
“One of the more recognizable features of the pictures of those early meetings was his hat,” Mercier says.
“He always wore those big cowboy hats,” says Tribal Chairman Reyn Leno, who grew up across the street from Ed’s family in Grand Ronde. “He always just seemed to be saying this is the way I am. Ed always remembered he was a Grand Ronde Indian and that is what made him successful when he was on council. He cared about people. He was really supportive of those issues like veterans and Elders. He was raised here in Grand Ronde when you respected your Elders. People don’t do that anymore.”
Leno says he spent a lot of time at the Larsen household as a child growing up and that if he wasn’t at their house the Larsen children were at his house.
“I’ve known Ed all my life; as far back as I can remember being a kid,” Leno says. “We grew up and we were Grand Ronde. He was the same. He was Grand Ronde Indian. He was willing to tell anyone he was a Grand Ronde Indian. He never was not. He was always very proud of it.”
Leno says Ed was a key player in the opening of the Tribe’s casino.
“He knew so many people and so many people knew him,” Leno says. “He had a clear vision because he grew up here and he knew we didn’t have nothing but a cemetery – absolutely nothing.”
Ed and his brothers have always been sports fans and Ed played varsity basketball while attending school in Willamina. He still plays basketball despite the effects of Parkinson’s and he went to a Portland Trail Blazers game with his brother Kenny last year.
“I follow the Oregon schools,” Ed says. “I’m an Oregon State guy because of Mike, but I pull for Oregon when they are not playing Oregon State.”
Ed played in the 1960 Oregon State High School Class A-2 Boys Basketball Tournament at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay.
“We were the dark horses,” Ed says. “We took fourth in the league and then won in the district playoffs.”
Willamina High finished the 1960-61 season 18-6 after defeating Clatskanie 59-57 in the quarterfinals and then beating Myrtle Point 42-38 to make it to the championship game. The Bulldogs lost to Sherwood’s St. Francis Catholic High School 51-40 in the finals.
“At the high school there was always a picture of Ed in his basketball uniform in the trophy case. I would always go by and say ‘That’s my cousin Ed’,” says Tribal Elder and former Tribal Council member Steve Bobb Sr. “He was always a protector because he was older. He was really athletic. He was a good basketball player. He was one of the guys we all looked up to and wanted to be like – you know athletic, strong. He had that type of personality that we always wanted to be like him.”
Bobb says it was because of people like Ed and Ed’s best friend Dave “Punk” Leno that the young guys his age got to be a little more free to be who they wanted to be.
“Those guys were like protectors of us young guys,” Bobb says. “That’s the way it was for us.”
Bobb says one of his favorite memories associated with Ed is when Ed was driving log trucks.
“I don’t know how many people remember this but he could do the Tarzan yell,” Bobb says. “When he drove past my grandparent’s place over here on (Highway) 22 on a summer day, he would do that Tarzan yell out of the window of the truck. I would hear him every time. I’ll always remember that it was pretty cool. He did it really good.”
Ed and his brother Mike were close and they each dedicated their adult lives to the betterment of the Tribe and its people.
“They lived almost identical lives here,” Reyn Leno says of the brothers. “Mike didn’t really have anything bad to say about people. You never heard hardly anyone ever say a bad word about them. And they didn’t really say a bad word about anybody.”
Leno says Ed was a recognized leader in the Tribe because of how he carried himself.
“Ed was a silent leader,” Leno says. “But he was considered a leader because people knew he was a straight-talker. He wasn’t going to tell you just what you wanted to hear; he was going to tell you here is what it is and we just need to make it better.”
Tribal General Manager Dave Fullerton spends much of his time with Ed these days. They cut wood, stack hay and eat hearty breakfasts on the weekends, and the duo has become a mainstay at the casino on Monday night Elders’ dinners.
“Ed is a guy that likes to maintain tradition and keep things alive whether it’s a story he tells you or something he says to remind you of what things used to be like around here,” Fullerton says. “The Monday night dinner is a way for Ed to repay people for helping him out. He sees real value in returning a favor. I think he sees value in people knowing those stories. Ed is a storyteller. He can tell you exactly what was said from conversations years ago.”
Fullerton says he has repeatedly watched Larsen put others’ needs before his own.
“One of the things that I would say about Ed is he really values his family,” Fullerton says. “He is always putting his family or people in his family before his needs. Always. And I would say that people don’t realize about him is that he always goes out of his way to say ‘Hi’ to all the housekeepers and waitresses and bus people at the casino. The Keno callers, the wait staff – everyone down there knows him because he goes out of his way to say ‘Hi’ to them and have a conversation with them and ask how they are doing.”
Fullerton says he always admired the way Larsen treated Tribal staff.
“He generally just appreciates people,” Fullerton says. “He doesn’t put numbers in his phone; he just memorizes phone numbers. He remembers people’s birthdays. He is one of the council members that when he was on council he truly appreciated the employees at the Tribe. You could ask any long-term employee and they will have a story about Ed Larsen. When I take him to town he is buying chocolate treats for the ladies at the clinic. That’s just how he is.”
Greene says he knew Larsen was a solid leader when he saw how intently he listened during meetings.
“I think grounded is an excellent word to describe Ed,” Greene says. “He was one of those people who knew where he came from and knew his mission was to improve the lives of his people. He maintained that throughout the course of his time on council and the Spirit Mountain board. Ed could carry the message of the Tribe.”