The HVAC industry lost a great leader and pioneer as Karl Gustave Adrian Larson passed away March 4 in Palm Springs, Calif. Larson served as president, CEO, and chairman of the Gustave A. Larson Co. from 1960 to 2012. He was 80 years old upon his passing.
"Karl Larson was truly an iconic figure in the HVACR industry, specifically among wholesale distributors," said Talbot Gee, vice president and COO, Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI). "Distributors of all sizes and geographies shared an exceptional respect for what Karl had achieved for his company, and for what he did to build and advance HVACR distribution as a whole.
"Larson's passionate support for HARDI's education and research foundation is largely responsible for what it has become today, which is an institution that is playing a leading role in taking HVACR distribution to another level."
A LEGENDARY LIFEKarl Larson was born Jan. 11, 1932 in Madison, Wis. to Gustave and Mildred Larson. In 1950, Larson enrolled as an undergraduate engineering student at the University of Colorado. In 1954, he graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering.
While at the University of Colorado, he belonged to Sigma Tau and Pi Tau Sigma honorary societies, Phi Delta Theta fraternity, the "C" Club, and was a member of the varsity ski team.
In 1955, he entered the U.S. Navy and served until 1978, earning the rank of Lieutenant Commander prior to his retirement.
In 1960, he returned to Wisconsin and began working for Gustave A. Larson Co., a small distributor of refrigeration equipment started by his father. Under Karl Larson's tutelage, the company has flourished to include 47 branches in 13 Midwestern states.
On Dec. 15, 1962, he married Madeleine Larson in Milwaukee - a relationship that continued throughout his life. The Larsons have three children, Arne G. Larson, Andrew G. Larson, and Scott Karl Larson. Arne is self-employed and Andrew and Scott now serve as CEO and president with Gustave A. Larson Co.
Larson also served as president and chairman of the Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration, and Airconditioning Wholesalers Association (NHRAW), a group comprised of 670 wholesalers and manufacturers. In 2003, NHRAW consolidated to become HARDI.
He also volunteered as a board member with the Milwaukee Ballet, as a deacon with First Congregational Church, and supported medical research at the Cleveland Clinic and National Jewish in Denver.
An avid outdoorsman and motorsports enthusiast, Larson enjoyed biking, climbing, golfing, racing vintage cars, and other outdoor activities. A skiing fanatic, he completed many major ski marathons including the Vasaloppet in Sweden, Birkebeiner in Norway, and ascended to the top of Capitol Peak in Colorado.
COLORADO CONTRIBUTIONSLarson showed a great deal of love for his alma mater, the University of Colorado.
He served on the university's College of Engineering's Advisory Council, Resource Development Committee, and the Professional Advisory Board of the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering.
In 2011, he was honored with the Distinguished Alumni award by the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Larson's financial contributions helped the university build the Larson HVAC Building Systems Laboratory. The Larson Laboratory is used for educational and research purposes, and is designed for dynamic testing. of complete and full-scale commercial HVAC and building systems.
The facility consists of a full-size commercial HVAC system, four representative commercial building zones, a system for producing repeatable and controllable loads on the HVAC system, and sophisticated data acquisition and control systems. Activities at the laboratory include evaluation and testing of control algorithms and hardware for HVAC components and systems, interactions between multiple control functions of HVAC systems, the dynamic interactions between building thermal response and HVAC system controls, ventilation control for indoor air quality, and HVAC system diagnostics.
Most recently, the building zones have been converted to environmental test chambers for evaluating airflow patterns and contaminant distribution in hospital operating and patient rooms, cooling strategies for data center rack systems, and performance of novel building envelope systems. The laboratory also houses research activities on building-integrated solar thermal and PV systems.
"Karl Larson was an active and generous supporter of HVACR education at the University of Colorado, Boulder," said Michael Brandemuehl, Ph.D, professor of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering. "He was an ambassador of the program to others in the HVACR industry and attracted other sponsors of research in the lab. He was regularly on campus, interacting with faculty and students who shared his passion for HVACR research and education."
After funding the Larson Laboratory, the Larson family established an endowment for the award of fellowships to University of Colorado students studying HVACR. Fellowships have been given in amounts of $500 to $5,000 to graduate and undergraduate students in the department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering. Over the past 15 years, approximately 60 students have benefited from the fellowships.
"Karl Larson was a very highly regarded engineer, a loyal Colorado University-Boulder engineering alumnus, and a generous donor," said Jeremy Simon, Colorado University Foundation spokesman. "He is highly esteemed as an individual and donor."
GONE, BUT NOT FORGOTTENThe family has requested that all gifts in his memory be made to Colorado University's Foundation. Gifts will be used to support the Karl Larson HVAC Research Fund.
"I met Karl many years ago through the Northamerican Heating, Refrigeration & Air conditioning Wholesalers Association. He was a consummate gentleman and extremely interesting, especially with all of his outside interests," said Dick Foster, president of ZoneFirst, Elmwood Park, N.J. "I was very impressed by the company he ran, his ability to hire very well qualified and skilled people, and the success he enjoyed. He continued the legacy of his father and grew the Gustave A. Larson Company into one of the most successful wholesale operations in the world. Now he has instilled that same passion for excellence in his sons Andrew and Scott.
"Since he was a former NHRAW president, I thought it appropriate to help continue to fund the Wilder Foundation in his memory."
Kevin Macke, sales consultant, Gustave A. Larson Co., said he will always remember Karl as a great boss and dear friend.
"I've been with the G.A. Larson Company for over 35 years and had the privilege of completing several large projects with Karl. I always enjoyed doing them and learned that whether it was about a new building or a company celebration, things would only be done one way, and that was the best and right way," he said. "He had a great vision for the future and once told me that his number one goal was to have the best and highest paid employees in the industry.
"Karl was always interested in what you were thinking and hearing about any new ideas you had. If he didn't agree, he would explain why and give you a chance for rebuttal. No matter who won the debate, the conversation always ended with a pat on the back and a big smile. He always empowered his employees and challenged them to do their best and be their best. He loved to see people succeeding in life."