Larry Erickson was hewn from North Dakota soil, a natural who spent all of his life on the South Prairie farm he loved and his parents established. From there, he lived a life immersed in politics and history as well as farming and ranching with his wife, Claryce, his partner and equal. He died Thursday, July 10, 2014, surrounded by his family at a hospital in Rochester, Minn. He was 83 years old.
His life was the great adventure he was determined to have and which he lived to the hilt. He abided by his own set of rules and, despite his cowboy-like toughness, the goodness and loyalty of his character and his sense of fair play was always at the surface. His optimism and good humor carried him to the end.
He came by his political interests naturally as the son of Lawrence and Nellie Erickson, to whom he was born Aug. 6, 1930, in Minot. The senior Ericksons were dedicated members of the Nonpartisan League (NPL) that later was part of the Democrat Party in North Dakota. They were fighters in various farm movements for decades, and helped improve the working conditions of farmers. They purchased their South Prairie farm property in 1927 and Larry grew up there. He graduated in 1948 from Minot High School where, among other varsity achievements, he was a cheerleader – a wonderful anomaly in his life that his family wouldn’t let him forget. He went on to Minot State University where he earned a bachelor of science degree in history. He served in the North Dakota National Guard and was activated into the U.S. Army during the Korean War.
He married Claryce Thompson in Minot on July 6, 1951. Early on, he dubbed her Saffire, and she, along with everyone who knew them well, accepted that as part of her identity with him. They lived and farmed at South Prairie where they raised their four children. A fourth generation is now invested in the property that has always been known as the Diamond T Ranch.
Larry became involved in state Democratic politics at an early age. He was chairman of the State Young Democrats in 1956, and moved into the senior party leadership around 1958, the year it became affiliated with and eventually absorbed the Nonpartisan League. His political activities expanded, and in 1964 he was elected to the State Legislature. He lost by 32 votes in the next election cycle that swept Republicans into office. Then he was named head of the state Democrat-Nonpartisan League, a post he held from 1966 to 1969. He chaired the party’s state convention in 1968.
He and other Democrats, including his close friends Mark Purdy and Gary Williamson, traveled to Washington to sit down with Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter in 1967 and 1978 to discuss the state of North Dakota politics, farm and economic issues, and rural development. He was among a contingent of fellow Democrats led by Gov. Bill Guy to attend Bobby Kennedy’s funeral in 1968. That same year he was a delegate to the infamous, strife-torn National Democratic Convention in Chicago, and served under Gov. Bill Guy as vice chairman of the Democrat-Nonpartisan League convention delegation.
While his interest in politics never waned, his political activity did, and he turned his energies and active interests to history. At the same time, he and Claryce continued as hosts at their farm to North Dakota’s congressional delegation and state and national political officials seeking elective office.
Their guests also included participants in the German Marshall Memorial Fellowship Program, named for Gen. George C. Marshall who, as President Harry Truman’s secretary of state, fostered the Marshall Plan to promote economic recovery in Europe following World War II. Program participants are from European nations. They spent time in the United States touring historic sites in Washington and in the nation’s interior. The Ericksons provided them opportunities to see much of western North Dakota.
Over the years, he was fortunate to hold decades-long friendships which included many adventures such as infamous Canadian fishing trips and N.D. Badlands trail rides.
He held appointments to the North Dakota Historical Society Board, the State Wheat and Beef commissions, and was a supporter of the Ward County Historical Society, and held special assignments with the National of Academy of Sciences. Larry was a charter member of the Dakota Territory Air Museum, a life-long member of the North Dakota Farmers Union, board member of Souris River Telephone, and a board member of First Western Bank, Minot.
He was vice chairman of the North Dakota Centennial Commission with Gov. Art Link. He particularly enjoyed his work with the National Park System Advisory Board. The only North Dakotan to serve on the board at the time of his appointment by President Jimmy Carter, he and Claryce visited and counseled with numerous park officials across the nation. This work became his new passion and he reveled in it. Larry loved North Dakota’s Badlands and grasslands, and organized trail rides, and at least one buffalo roundup, with friends and family at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Larry was instrumental in the formation of the Cross Ranch and Fort Totten in western North Dakota. “You work not only at trying to preserve our national wonders, but also their history,” he once told a reporter from The Minot Daily News.
No matter where his travels took him, he always loved returning to South Prairie. He kept his hand in the farm operation even after son Jon took over. Larry loved sharing the Diamond T with others, whether they visited from overseas or down the road. Branding parties, deck gatherings, blackjack dealings, family time: these were among his favorite moments.
He marveled at his family and their achievements and counted them as his greatest blessing. He loved that the Diamond T served as the homebase and the heart of the family, and took great joy in gathering everyone there with his beloved jewel Saffire at his side.
Larry is survived by: his wife, Claryce; his children, Susan Carparelli (Russ), Nashville, Tenn., Vicky Erickson (Alan Ager), Pendleton, Ore., Julie Erickson, St. Louis, Mo., Jon Erickson (Eleanor), Minot; and grandchildren, Jessica Pickett (Jeff), Christopher Carparelli, Emily Ager, Katie Durick (Josh Kotin), Leah Durick, Jacob, Luke and Hannah Erickson, and great-grandchildren, Gabriel Pickett, Maxwell Kotin and Olivia Ziniel. Larry is also survived by his sisters, Jeanne McNea and June Holmes, both Billings, Mont., and Bonnie Irwin, Fargo.
Larry was preceded in death by: his parents, Lawrence and Nellie Erickson; and cousin “brother,” Bud Beckman.
Memorial services will be: Friday, July 18, at 11 a.m. at Zion Lutheran Church, 1800 Hiawatha St., Minot.
Friends may sign a register book: Thursday, July 17, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Thompson-Larson Funeral Home, Minot.
The family has also requested friends and family to share any stories and photos online at (www.thompsonlarson.com).
The family suggests that memorial gifts be directed to the North Dakota Historical Society and the Dakota Territory Air Museum.