Karin Larson never minded being the only girl in her family, her major or her career. She thought it gave her an advantage.
The business-savvy daughter of Swedish descent who is known for her generosity to several Twin Cities organizations died April 24 at her home in Pacific Palisades, Calif. She was 82.
“She described herself as someone that would lead from behind,” said Jim Bender, spokesman for Bethel University and a longtime friend. “She wanted to empower people and then get behind them and push them on.”
Larson was born Aug. 8, 1938, in Minneapolis to parents Walter and Clara Larson. The youngest of three children, and the only daughter, she graduated from South High School and later from the University of Minnesota with a degree in business and international relations — a major she designed herself. She was the first in her family to graduate from college.
She moved to California to be near other family and earned an MBA from the University of Southern California. While there, she took a secretarial job at Capital Group, an investment firm based in Los Angeles. She credits her boss who saw her potential and gave her several opportunities to grow her career.
She became an analyst, a portfolio manager and eventually the first female research director at the firm, which grew to become one of the world’s top investment companies. When first offered the job as research director, which meant a move to New York, she said no three times, but eventually relented.
In a video made for Bethel University, she said, “It turned out that was one of the best parts of my career, watching the development of other young people and providing support. I wasn’t very achievement oriented or … focused on that title, really. I didn’t worry that I wasn’t being recognized so much.”
With her success, she chose to invest in young people, rekindling a connection with Bethel, where she became a board member and major contributor to the private university in Arden Hills.
“Karin was one of the most courageous, remarkable, strong, generous, visionary people we ever met,” said Bethel President Emeritus Jay Barnes. “She exemplified the grit and character qualities we hope Bethel students will develop.”
Her donations helped to grow the university’s nursing department, business department and wellness center. She contributed the largest cash gift in the university’s history to fund the Nelson-Larson Science Center, a three-story, 18,000-square-foot building. She named the building in honor of her mother, whose maiden name was Nelson.
“She wanted this building given in honor for her mom and dad, but especially for her mom who always wanted to be a nurse, but never had the opportunity,” Bender said.
Larson also donated to Minnesota Public Radio, the American Swedish Institute, the Salvation Army and numerous educational programs.
A memorial service is set for May 15 at Malibu Pacific Church in Malibu, Calif.