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Arlington honors Yolanda Larsen for lifetime of service

Kirk Boxleitner/Staff Photo From left, Randy Larsen, Sheri Walker and Suzi Elsner join their mom, Yolanda Larsen, along with her other sons, Ryan and Rick Larsen, as she receives the Stillaguamish Senior Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award Sept. 8. - Kirk Boxleitner
Kirk Boxleitner/Staff Photo From left, Randy Larsen, Sheri Walker and Suzi Elsner join their mom, Yolanda Larsen, along with her other sons, Ryan and Rick Larsen, as she receives the Stillaguamish Senior Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award Sept. 8.
— image credit: Kirk Boxleitner

SMOKEY POINT — She goes by many names, but regardless of whether she answers to “Mom,” “Grandma” or “Auntie Yo,” Yolanda Larsen is known for her years of community service, which earned her the Stillaguamish Senior Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award Sept. 8.

Stillaguamish Senior Center Board Co-Chair Dale Duskin opened the morning’s ceremonies in Larsen’s honor by praising her skills as a communicator.

“If you needed to get the word out to people, you used to use the telegraph, then you used the telephone, but now, you just tell Yolanda,” Duskin said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “I guess with a family her size, you get good at networking. She’s saved my bacon more than once, whether she knows it or not. She’s kept me on track.”

Like Yolanda and her husband, Richard “Dick” Larsen, all eight of their children graduated from Arlington High School, and of those eight, seven now have master’s degrees and one has a doctorate.

Yolanda not only supported Dick in his community service, which included terms on the Arlington City Council and Airport and Planning commissions, but also contributed her own time, talents and resources on behalf of local education, even after all of her children had graduated out of the Arlington School District.

Yolanda volunteered for years in classrooms, remained active in parent-teacher groups, worked on several school district bond and levy committees, helped raise more than $2.5 million to build the Linda M. Byrnes Performing Arts Center at Arlington High School and then served on the PAC’s advisory board. Duskin noted that her more than 50 years of community involvement began at an early age, since she also took part in the first Silvana Fair.

“She’s essentially everywhere,” said Duskin, who presented Larsen with a clock to ensure that she’d continue to meet all her many appointments on time.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen served as the keynote speaker for the breakfast ceremony honoring his mother, and supplied amusing anecdotes about how much not only he and his siblings, but also many other Arlington children have come to depend on Yolanda.

“If our family isn’t able to get a hold of her, it’s like an Internet server going down,” Rick Larsen said, following on Duskin’s initial remarks. “When we were in school, our friends all knew her as ‘Auntie Yo,’ and even after we weren’t in school anymore, the name stuck. Now you’ve got all sorts of local kids and their families, who are no relation to our own, who know her as ‘Grandma Yo.’”

Rick joked that one of his mother’s names for him and his siblings was simply “you damn kids,” before he teased Yolanda about the idiosyncratic ways in which she named her children — all the boys with first names starting with “R” and all the girls with first names starting with “S.” On a more serious note, Rick cited Yolanda’s other contributions to the community, from her efforts in the development of Centennial Park to her service on the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation Board.

“She’s been a bridge between Arlington’s past and its future,” Rick Larsen said. “She raised us to make independent decisions within reason. She’s always been about what’s best for kids. She remained dedicated to these schools, even after her children were gone. Her legacy is her commitment to education. She and Dad made sure we all attended college, even though they weren’t able to do so themselves.”

Rick Larsen paused for a moment as he recalled his father, who married his mother in 1958 and passed away 50 years later in 2008.

“He would have insisted that she receive this award,” Rick Larsen said. “Mom, I know you’d say there are many people who deserve this award, but you deserve it too.”

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