He checks his cows’ milking production and assures they are comfortable and healthy. At the farm’s office, he handles invoices, banking needs, returns phone calls and reads dairy community journals.
Just don’t try to find him at 2 p.m. That’s when he takes his daily “siesta.”
At 89 years old, Larson has earned his siesta. However, that’s about the only time you’ll find him idle. Family members say Larson has slowed a bit – and he admits as much – but an active daily farm life has allowed him to maintain his wit and health.
And he continues to show he isn’t afraid to change with the times.
“My dad is the youngest thinking old man I know,” said Larson’s son, Woody. “And I’ve been saying that for 30 years.”
The Larson family encompasses seven farms owned in various partnerships involving Red, Woody, another son, John, and Woody’s sons Travis and Jacob. In all, the family manages 12,000 cows in South Florida’s Okeechobee County.
Family members rely on Larson’s history and perspective, particularly Jacob and Travis, who are in their 30s.
“He can tell you a story that relates to just about anything that we deal with,” Travis said. “It may be from 30 or 40 years ago but it still applies today.”
Larson was born on a South Dakota farm where his father had a handful of cows. But when the Dust Bowl rendered the land unsuitable for farming in the 1930s, the family headed to South Florida. Larson worked for $2 a day as a kid milking cows by hand in the summers and on weekends.
After Japan’s invasion of Pearl Harbor in 1941, Larson joined the Air Force and became a B-26 pilot, though he never flew in combat. He returned to the Miami area following his service and played some football at the University of Miami before becoming entrenched as a dairyman.
About this time, he met the love of his life, a woman named Reda who worked at a bank. Larson remembers a courting adventure when he took Reda for a plane ride and they ran out of fuel. Larson safely landed the plane in a tomato field.
“She never went up with me again,” he says with a laugh.
The couple has been married 66 years. Larson credits her with being a steadying influence with their four children.
“She likes to say she’s fair but fierce,” John said. “She kept us very involved in school and church. She lived to make sure every one of her kids had a college education. She always said we can lose everything but you can never lose your education.”
In 1971, the family relocated to Okeechobee, an inland location away from Florida’s booming coastal population. More than four decades later, the Larsons’ community impact – and the man who started it all – remains strong.
Each day Larson drives around town in his SUV that is easily recognized by a front plate that simply reads “Red,” a childhood nickname influenced by his hair color. Today, “Red” represents a rich legacy for a family and a farming community where cows outnumber people by more than three-to-one.
“When he speaks, people listen,” Jacob said of his grandfather. “Usually he’s pretty quiet in crowds but when he speaks, there’s a profound silence. His voice carries respect.”
As Larson looks forward to turning 90 in March, there are no signs things will change around the farms. And that’s just fine by his family.
“There are only two ways you become a legend,” Woody says. “One is you live a long time or you do something really legendary. In his case, he’s done both. He’s fortunate that he’s in good health with a sound mind and body and still actively working.
“We’re fortunate and we know that. It’s a blessing.”