When longtime family friend John Byrne addressed those who attended the memorial service for Bev Larson, he asked everyone
who had ever volunteered for the Old Mill Center to stand up.
About half of the crowd got to their feet. Then he asked those who had ever been treated by Larson in a special way to stand up. All of the nearly 600 attendees stood.
“I don’t think there was anyone Bev knew whom she didn’t love,” Byrne said.
The crowd who came to the LaSells Stewart Center Saturday celebrated Larson, who founded and ran the Old Mill Center in Corvallis.
Larson died March 15 at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center after suffering a heart attack a month prior. She was 67.
The Old Mill Center, which was originally called Old Mill School, kicked off in 1977 as a way for Larson to address a problem she noticed while training to become a teacher: students with disabilities were separated from the rest of the school.
Over the years the school grew into a multifaceted family service center that’s now located on 45th Street near Bruce Starker Arts Park. Early on, it served eight families; now the Old Mill Center takes care of more than 1,600 families in Benton County. It is considered a pioneer program in early childhood education, partly due to its inclusive attitude.
Byrne shared comments collected from staff at the Old Mill Center:
• “She knew the hurt that troubled kids create wasn’t nearly as great as the hurt they were feeling themselves.”
• “A hug from Bev would keep you warm for a week.”
• “Wow. Her vision, enthusiasm and compassion for children and their families. Wow.”
He also shared comments from children, which included one unnamed child’s touching message to Larson: “I hope everyone gets a chance like you gave me.”
Aaron Cuniff, Larson’s nephew, thanked the crowd for showing appreciation to his aunt.
He said that he and his siblings went to the Old Mill Center and learned “all children are just that: children,” he said. “It did not matter what’s on the outside of a person, but on the inside.”
Cuniff said that although his aunt didn’t have children of her own, she was a mother to him and his three siblings.
“Her fifth child was the Old Mill Center,” he said. “She’s been raising it for the past 35 years and I think she would be proud of it today.”
Larson is survived by her sister, Geraldeen “Geary” Cuniff of Salem; two nieces, Meghann Cuniff of Spokane, Wash., and Katie Cuniff of Philomath; two nephews, Aaron Cuniff of Philomath and Jesse Cuniff of Corvallis; and a grandniece, Aleaha Cuniff of Philomath.
Dick Olfield, 51, of Beaverton said he had known Larson since he was 4 years old.
“The service was very fitting,” he said. “As sad as it is, there was some humor and it made for a fitting celebration of her life.”
Longtime family friend Jean Roth, 92, wants those who loved Larson to show their love by keeping her passion going.
“We hope that her friends will carry on Old Mill,” she said.
Emily Gillespie can be reached at 541-758-9548 or firstname.lastname@example.org.