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PASSAGES: PFLAG's John Larson dies

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John Victor Larson, 73, of North Versailles, Penn., formerly of Plainfield, Ill., died, January 24 at Redstone Highlands Skilled Nursing Facility in Greensburg, Penn.

Larson was a vital force in PFLAG activities in Illinois, including PFLAG's support of the Gay Games VII in 2006 and its efforts to have rowing in Crystal Lake.

He was born May 5, 1939 in Peoria, Ill., a son of Velma Mae Kneer Larson of Weslaco, Texas and the late Robert Victor Larson. He was also preceded in death by his wife, Bonnie Lou Nafziger Larson.

Larson was a retired nuclear engineer for Westinghouse. He attended schools in Morton, Ill. and graduated from the University of Illinois. He was a member of numerous peace and civil-rights organizations and was an active member of St. John's, Lockport, Ill., and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in McKeesport, Penn. His involvement with PFLAG and the Episcopal Church formed the center of his life in his later years.

In addition to his mother, he is survived by his sons: James (Karen) Larson and Michael Larson; daughter: Stephanie Larson (Chris) Graham; seven grandchildren; sisters: Martha (Paul) Rogers, Valerie Larson, Roberta Larson and two nephews.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, March 2, 2013 at Noon in St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 220 Eighth Street, McKeesport, Penn., 15132 with Rev. David L. Kinsey as celebrant. Inurnment will follow in St. Stephen's Columbarium.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to either St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church, 312 East 11th Street, Lockport, Ill. 60441 and/or PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois (where a scholarship fund is being established), P.O. Box 734, Elmhurst, Ill. 60126, and/or St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 220 Eighth Street, McKeesport, Penn. 15132.

Arrangements entrusted to the Jaycox-Jaworski Funeral Home, Inc., 2703 O'Neil Boulevard, McKeesport, PA 15132.

Toni Weaver of PFLAG wrote the following tribute to Larson in the PFLAG Open Doors newsletter:

Special people have always been a part of PFLAG, people who have given of themselves in extraordinary ways, people who have taken positions of leadership, inspiring others to follow suit. Two such people are John Larson and Barbara Schon-Lundberg, both of whom are no longer among us. It is they we wish to honor in this edition of Open Doors. If only they had lived to read this tribute. We hope that it will bring some measure of comfort and consolation to the families they have left behind.

Ill health forced John to make the most difficult decision to leave Illinois, his church family, and his PFLAG chapter to move closer to his children. Renegade renal cancer cells migrated to his brain and finally to his spine, triggering the need for additional treatment. Despite the debilitating effects of chemotherapy and radiation, John continued passionately working on behalf of the LGBT community. Sadly, the cancer claimed his body, but it could never claim his spirit.

John and his spouse Bonnie learned of their son's sexual orientation, not through the usual "Mom, Dad, I have something to tell you … . " Rather, they heard it from the police after their son had been arrested for having sex in a public washroom. Initially shocked and upset as any parent would be, they quickly embraced their son's sexuality after taking the only appropriate course of action for an engineer—they educated themselves on every aspect of homosexuality.

John and Bonnie founded the first PFLAG chapter in Pittsburg. When they moved to Illinois, they began the Aurora/Fox Valley chapter. John lost his beloved partner in life more than 10 years ago, but he continued on without her as he helped to establish the PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois and served as its first president. Later, he took on the responsibilities of state coordinator, keeping all of the PFLAG chapters in Illinois connected. Nothing could keep John from the annual Chicago Pride Parade. Even when he was forced to use a walker, he was there!

His passion for his family and PFLAG could not eclipse his love for his church. He served as Senior Warden, the highest position that a layperson can hold within the parish, and it gave him a platform from which to work for LGBT equality within his parish and the wider church communion. His death creates a vacuum that will take all of us to fill.

Barbara lost her fight against brain cancer in October and departed this life surrounded by her beloved life-partner Larry and two precious sons, Steven and Russell. She had served but one year of her two-year term as president of the PFLAG Council of Northern Illinois when the grim diagnosis came down. Prior to that role, Barbara served as editor-in-chief of Open Doors in addition to her work in the Glenview/Deerfield chapter. At the time of her departure from the Council, she was focused on making PFLAG more racially diverse, arranging for PFLAG National to provide diversity training and working toward the establishment of a PFLAG chapter on Chicago's South Side among the ethnically and culturally diverse population who live there. Her dream may yet become a reality as others take up the cause.

Barbara's involvement in PFLAG did not come about from having a gay son; rather, she took up the fight for equality when she was told by her brother that the courts would not look favorably upon a gay man being appointed guardian of her children. Her first reaction was complete outrage: how dare "they" tell her who could or could not raise her children!

Barbara was omnipresent at PFLAG events throughout the Chicagoland area. With her faithful life partner, Larry, by her side, she made her presence and passion known. If only she were here among us today as Illinois moves ever closer to making marriage equality a reality.

This past June, PFLAG National recognized Barbara during its "PFLAG Celebrates the Heartland" event at the Center on Halsted, presenting Larry with a plaque honoring her devotion to LGBT equality, which he carried home and placed within easy viewing of Barbara. Sadly, at that point, she was completely homebound but still fully aware and responsive. It was really but a small honor for a woman who gave herself completely for others.

John and Barbara, like so many members of PFLAG, provide concrete examples of what ordinary people, acting in extraordinary ways, can do to move equality forward. All of us working together can bring about real change in this world if we're but willing to move out of our comfort zones and take meaningful action.

John and Barbara, we thank you. Farewell, dear friends. You'll live on in our memories; you'll live on in your accomplishments; you'll live on in the hearts of all who knew and loved you.

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