Hollister A. Larson
August 20, 1922 - March 26, 2021
An icon of the community, Hollister “Holly” Alexander Larson, passed away as he danced into heaven on March 26, 2021, at the age of 98 at the family home in Kalispell. This Kalispell legend always considered himself a young man because he had not yet reached 100 years of age. Hearing about his passing, many of his friends and family have since proclaimed it is the end of an era.
Holly, as he was known by throughout his life, was born on Aug. 20, 1922, in Kalispell, the youngest child of Norwegian logging immigrant Hans Fredrik Cornelius and Alma Helmina (Johnson) Larson. Born during the Depression, Holly spent his early youth picking rocks off logging roads. He rode the log jams from Dayton, Montana, to the Somers Lumber Company — fishing along the way. During the Depression, young Holly lived at Lake Mary Ronan with his grandfather TJ Johnson. He spent his time protecting his father’s logging camp from the many transients passing through. They lived off potatoes and fish. Fish continued to be his favorite culinary delight throughout his life.
Holly attended Central School in Kalispell. He graduated from Flathead County High School in 1940. He excelled in mathematics, girls, basketball and dancing. During high school he dated his best friend’s sister, Jean Evans, whom he later married in 1944. He drove a red convertible during his high school years that was his “chick magnet.” After high school he moved to Los Angeles with three of his high school friends and began working at Lockheed Air assembling P-38s. These young men remained friends throughout their lives and eventually all moved back to the Flathead.
In 1941, Holly enlisted in the Army Air-Corps at Butte to become a pilot. He was stationed at many training sites in the U.S., including North Carolina, California, Colorado, Washington and Texas. He completed the Army Air Corps College Training School at the State College of Washington in Pullman. He completed his Basic Training at Lemoore Army Air Field. As one of the longest living World War II pilots in the United States, he flew B-13s, AT-10s, and AT-17s. He flew single and multi-engine aircraft transitioning to Transports and Bombers. Throughout World War II, Holly flew C-47s and flew needed supplies to his air base in Okinawa. Due to his level of skill, he was assigned to transporting generals to their posts. On one occasion he flew through the eye of a cyclone, transporting a top brass to safety. The general personally shook his hand and gave Hollister his thanks for safe passage. He crisscrossed the Pacific, flying many dangerous missions, answering the call of duty. He always said the bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved his life and the lives of men with whom he served. Holly was most proud of being a World War II pilot and captain of a C-47 as well as his service to his country. He was equally proud of his Viking heritage and his Norwegian family roots.
The Larson family established logging businesses that have made a positive impact on the logging and timber industry as well as the economy of Northwest Montana. Holly founded Royal Logging Company, which was at one time one of the largest independent logging companies in the United States and was vice-president of Plum Creek Timber. He was a partner in the American Timber Company started by his father. He was president and owner of Mountain Manufacturing Company, which built and shipped wheel skidders internationally, which was new technology at that time in history. Often working behind the scenes, he provided seed money to assist community members who were starting new businesses that supported the logging and timber industry.
He was essential in developing a pre-trade agreement with Canada that assisted local sawmills in obtaining a viable log source. He was a leader in the Montana Loggers Association and the Timber Products Manufacturers Association.
When he retired from Plum Creek, he worked for Western Forest Industries Association representing independent sawmills and over 200,000 forest related jobs throughout the Pacific Northwest to the Senate Energy Committee hearings by lobbying in Washington, D.C. He hosted politicians and Forest Service policy makers educating them about Montana’s successful forest management practices through on-site tours in Northwest Montana. He traveled to Japan and Germany and brought back the latest innovative strategies and practices to be able to establish the plywood and particle board plants in Columbia Falls creating new jobs in the Flathead.
He enjoyed servicing as the “captain” of the Rough & Tumble, a 36-foot Stancraft boat owned by Plum Creek Timber and he escorted many dignitaries, political figures, lumber men and international guests coming to the Flathead Valley on tours of the Hungry Horse Dam and Flathead Lake.
Holly and his CPA business partner, J. Austin Miller, developed several housing projects together. Northridge Heights was the first of such projects followed by Craigmoor on Flathead Lake. Holly and Francis Bitney later developed the Many Lakes Neighborhood in the Creston area. He built the First & Main Building in downtown Kalispell and founded Title Guarantee Company.
Holly’s father, Hans Larson, donated Flathead Lake property to Bethlehem Lutheran Church designated for the Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp. Holly and his sister Adeline expanded the family’s philanthropic vision over the years donating more lake front property to the camp.
Holly served on the following state and national committees: Montana Chamber of Commerce, Governors’ Industrial Development Committee, Montana Nature Areas Advisory Council, National American Lumber Standards Committee, Western Forest Industries Association where he also served as president. He served on the University of Montana Council of 50, and the Advisory Council of the School of Business Administration.
He was a charter member of the Grizzly Riders International for the University of Montana and well into his 80s participated in every annual “ride” except the inaugural ride. He loved Montana and promoted it throughout his life. He called it Camelot.
He was the oldest continuous living member of the Kalispell Rotary Club involved for over 56 years and recently was presented with the Paul Harris Foundation Award. In prior years he competed on the Rotary curling team that played in Canada. He was the oldest living member of the Northwest Montana Hoo-Hoo 187 Club where he was awarded the Woodpecker of the Year award in 1985. Thursday nights found Holly at the Buffalo Hills Golf Course playing on a league team. For 71 years he was a member of the Elks Club. He also was engaged in the Eagles, and Sons of Norway.
Together he and Clyde Smith founded the Advanced Life Support Emergency Rescue Team (A.L.E.R.T.) where he served on the board since its inception. He was passionate about saving the lives of loggers who were injured.
Holly was recently a special guest of honor at the sendoff gala of the Museum of Mountain Flying for the Miss Montana to Normandy fund raising event held in Missoula. He was one of three World War II veterans in Montana honored at this event.
Holly annually supported many charitable organizations including Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Kalispell Exchange Club, ALERT, FVCC, Alpine Theatre Project, Hoo Hoo Club, Elks, Rotary, Montana Logging Association, and Flathead County Deputy Sheriff Association. He was an annual sponsor of the Flathead Jazz Festival. He made donations to many causes that impacted the quality of life in the Flathead Valley. He was raised in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Kalispell where he supported faith=based programs throughout his life. He had a generous heart for helping other people succeed and enjoyed seeing people better themselves. Through the Special Friends Advocacy Program, he touched the lives of persons with disabilities spending time with them and helping them learn skills that they might not otherwise have learned.
Holly treasured spending time with his family, children, grandchildren, and many friends. In his mind there not a better place to live than the Flathead Valley. No matter how busy he was, he made time for his family, dancing with his granddaughters, tinkering and fixing things in the garage and creating innovative ways to repair things with his grandsons. His grandchildren felt that he believed in them and made them feel like they were the most important persons in the world.
Holly was preceded in death by his high school sweet heart, dance partner, and loving wife of 52 years, Jean Elizabeth “Betty Jean” Larson. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1994 at a gala event held at the Outlaw Inn.
Holly leaves a legacy of love and many memories of an amazing man with a life well lived to his sons, Thomas (wife Kathy) Larson, David (wife Michelle) Larson; and his daughter Holly Jean Larson, all of the Flathead Valley. He cherished his grandchildren, Hollister (his namesake) Jay Larson of Kalispell, Kymberly Larson of Mexico/Spokane, Eric Larson of Kalispell, Jeff (wife Lisa) Larson of New Jersey, and Courtney Larson of Vancouver, and Tessa Kiesz of New York. His great-grandchildren include Kiley (wife Ashley) Poole of Spokane, Ashley Arden Elizabeth Poole of Spokane, Abigail and Audrey Larson of New Jersey, and Ayomide and Simisola Ademousu of Vancouver. He is also survived by cousins L. Peter (wife Sallie) Larson and Kurt (wife Carol) Larson of Kalispell, Dick (wife Dorothy) Thomas and Robert Tillman (Buzzie) Thomas of Florida and Robert Sparling of Tacoma, Washington, as well as Sandra Rosetti of Kalispell and the mother of his first three grandchildren Sherry Stevens (husband Doug Houtz) of Kalispell.
Holly had a big personality but could be gentle and caring. His family members say that he didn’t get cheated out of one minute of his life. All of his grandchildren say it’s hard to imagine a world without him in it. The impact on their lives and the community will be felt for generations. He was known as the life of any party with a genuine sense of humor that included playing elaborate practical jokes on his family and friends that were often “paid back” full fold. He was full of life and energy right up to his last day on earth.
Because of his quick wit and charisma Hollister was asked to emcee a wide variety of events throughout his life.
Known as a colorful character, he treated everyone equally and didn’t judge anyone. He was upbeat, loved life to the fullest, and danced at every opportunity — even at home. He loved jazz and the Big Band era music. He enjoyed playing golf, traveling, a good glass of wine, dancing with women who also loved to dance, and annually hunting pheasants in Eastern Montana. He made people laugh and feel good about themselves. He was truly part of “the greatest generation.”
His daughter Holly Jean and his grandson Holly Jay who provided care for Hollister during the last years of his life made up “the 3 Holly’s” as they were fondly known when they were together. Holly Jean cared for her father for over 25 years.
Memorial Contributions may be made to the ALERT - Advanced Life-Support Emergency Rescue Team at 310 Sunnyview Lane, Kalispell, MT in honor of Hollister’s dedication and service to the mission of ALERT; or the University of Montana Grizzly Riders International Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 3176 Missoula, MT 59808-3176.
Due to COVID-19, a private graveside service and celebration of Hollister’s life will be held at the C.E. Conrad Memorial Cemetery for family and close friends on Tuesday, April 6, at 2 p.m.
If you listen carefully you can hear Holly singing ... “Off we go into the wild blue yonder.”