Remembering our colleague and friend Barb Larson
On Dec. 23, 2016 Barb Larson, our colleague and friend and a 12-year-employee of the chamber, was killed in our office. The heartache that followed is shared widely. We respect the deep and powerful loss felt by her sons and sisters and their families. The message that follows is the story of how this event impacted us at the Chamber. It is one of countless stories and messages that are told with tears and disbelief by family and friends far and wide.
People ask us every single day how we are doing. What is the answer to that: Fine? OK? Of course we are fine – we are alive and life is for the living so we continue. But we are forever changed.
Those first hours and days after the tragedy of Barb’s death were filled with anguish. We clung together as staff and had the support of board members and others who recognized and felt the gut-wrenching sadness. Many helped us through those first days. The Faribault Police and Rice County Sheriff’s department were tender and kind, while strongly professional in their necessary tasks. Within hours Rod Gramse, a member of our board, came to my home where the staff had gathered. He helped draft a statement on behalf of the chamber organization.
People come together in times like this. The owners of the Loading Dock helped us host a quiet gathering the evening before the funeral. Our friend Dan Hedge led us in a prayer service at the chamber office the morning of the funeral. A local group organized a community prayer service, bringing messages of comfort and peace. Steve Underdahl, a past Chamber board chairman, understood our anxiety about the office and began to marshal resources and volunteers to redecorate the lobby at the Chamber. Many members contributed to that work in progress.
We had the valuable assistance of mental health professional James Marthaler from Rice County Social Services. A number of generous pastors and church representatives stopped in and provided comfort and gifts. We received flowers and plants and food, as people knew that we were truly Barb’s family at work.
We asked people to share one word to describe Barb and we created a “wordle” that celebrates her vivacious personality. It now hangs beautifully framed next to the front desk. Stop in and see it.
Members asked us what they could do to help and how we could honor Barb’s memory and we commissioned a memorial mosaic that will be installed outside the chamber building later this summer. Barb truly enjoyed her work at the chamber; she was so well suited for the work and she made everyone she met feel special. She really loved managing the Chamber’s leadership program, Faribault’s Future. Mayo Health System has funded a full scholarship for Faribault’s Future tuition in Barb’s name.
We passed the six-month mark last week. Now we grieve more privately and tend to our work. We can smile now remembering Barb, but tears are always pretty close to the surface. We miss our friend and colleague; we miss her joyfulness and humor and her work ethic and experience. But we are doing well and doing better and working hard to bring value to our members and the community.