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Old Mill Center founder remembered at recital

Bev Larson’s portrait, in oil on canvas, smiled in the background as young musicians wowed the audience Sunday during a recital at the Old Mill Center.

It was fitting, organizers said, that the portrait of Old Mill’s co-founder be unveiled at the recital. The combination of youth and music gave Larson so much joy that 25 years ago she helped launch the Fireside Recital Series.

Proceeds provide scholarships through Oregon State University’s piano department and benefit the Old Mill Center.

Larson died one year ago on Friday at the age of 67, but friends and family say her legacy is alive and well.

When Larson and friend Barb Kralj opened a pre-kindergarten class, the Old Mill School, in a Corvallis church basement 36 years ago, they did something revolutionary for the time — they put children with special-needs in the same classroom as other children.

But Larson and Kralj soon realized that their students needed additional services.

“Bev Larson said let’s just bring all those services here and house them in one location,” said Alissa Craft, interim director of Old Mill, during the portrait unveiling.

From an obscure preschool serving eight families, Old Mill grew into a diversified service provider that serves about 1,600 families each year. The nonprofit offers child abuse treatment, mental health services, parent education, counseling and occupational and physical therapy.

Larson’s longtime friend and Old Mill supporter, Jayne Ackerman, commissioned her portrait, which was painted by local artist Dee Yarnell.

Larson’s dedication to Old Mill was apparent from the day Ackerman met her in 1989.

“I was in Corvallis only three weeks before Bev had me roped into the Old Mill Center,” Ackerman recalled. “… She said, you must come out to see our school.”

Members of Larson’s family were among the audience of nearly 70 people at Sunday’s recital, which featured musicians from age 8 up through college.

Larson’s sister, Geary “George” Cuniff, said the event reaffirms the community’s love and support of her.

“To have this unveiled at an event like this, it’s just huge,” she said. “We all miss her dearly, but we take a lot of joy in the legacy she left.”

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Reporter Canda Fuqua can be reached at 541-758-9548 or canda.fuqua@lee.net.

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