NGL mourns death of John D. Larson, retired NGL President & CEO

John D. Larson headshot

It is with deep sadness that we share the passing of John D. Larson, former NGL President & CEO, on September 29, 2019. John was an integral part of NGL for nearly 50 years.

Joining NGL in 1969, John was promoted to various senior leadership positions until becoming President in 1974. He was also Chairman of the NGL Board of Directors beginning in 2004 and appointed Chairman Emeritus in 2017.

It was under John’s leadership and guidance that NGL shifted its focus from traditional insurance to preneed. His vision provided NGL with the stability and optimism that was needed to allow us to become a leader in the preneed industry.

“John left behind a legacy at NGL of caring for people, a commitment to Madison and profound integrity in all his dealings. He loved NGL and his community. He will be missed,” said Knut A. Olson.

David G. Walsh, Chairman, NGL Board of Directors shared, “John’s leadership and ceaseless effort was instrumental in leading NGL to continued success. The NGL Board of Directors are grateful for John’s sound business advice and valued counsel. He was a valued member of our Board and our community. He will be missed.”

NGL memories video

There were a lot of memories created throughout John’s time at NGL. Click here or on the video to watch a brief video of photos with some of those memories.

Community involvement

A pillar in the community, John, was involved in a variety of nonprofits and local activities, including American Red Cross Southwest Region, United Way of Dane County, Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps Association, Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce and Civic Progress Group-Capital Funds Committee.

Earlier this year we worked with our Board of Directors to create the John D. Larson Scholarship Fund for the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Business. The scholarship was established to honor John and his years of service to NGL. The merit-based scholarship is awarded annually (up to four years provided the recipient is enrolled as an undergraduate) to an incoming freshman who has been accepted to the Wisconsin School of Business. The scholarship will help to alleviate financial stress and allow students to focus on their studies and pursue their passions. “The scholarship will touch the lives of many people not just today, but well into the future,” said Michael M. Knetter, President and CEO University of Wisconsin Foundation.

Military career

Prior to joining NGL, John was active duty with the U.S. Army as a Judge Advocate and served in Okinawa, Japan from 1966-1969. He continued to serve as member of the Wisconsin Army National Guard for nearly 30 years, during that time he retired as Assistant Adjutant General for Readiness & Training for the State Area Command with the rank of Brigadier General.

NGL employees share their memories

Janet Fosdick, retired NGL Vice President of Policy Administration

I worked with John for over 39 years. Although a man of few words, he listened intently to everyone and would draw conclusions for all the input. I later adapted a similar process as I moved into management. I respected him greatly and I believe he respected me too. I still remember the day he came into my office and shook my hand congratulating me on my promotion to a Vice President. I never saw it coming and was so proud to think he believed in me and had the last word on my promotion. 

He expected his leadership team to challenge each other, listen and ALWAYS be honest and truthful. John could read a lie a mile away – and if you did lie, you lost his respect.

His, I’ll call it military leadership style, may not be what everyone liked, but he always had the company and employees’ best interest in mind. Feedback was short and sweet when you would get it. But he cared.

The last few years I personally helped him when he had questions on things happening or questions he had on his personal NGL products. He was a friend and mentor so when he would ask, I would drop what I was doing and help him out.

Although I miss everyone at NGL, John had a special place in my heart. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.

Rob Heins, NGL Senior Marketing Services Analyst

It did not matter if I was in the elevator, hallway, or at my desk John always took time to say hi in passing. He would always acknowledge you. That meant a lot to me, especially when I first started out at NGL. My thoughts and prayers go out to all his family and friends.

Kathy Johnson, retired NGL Vice President & Director of Human Resources

I worked with John for 12 years. He could be tough at times but I had so much respect for his honesty and integrity. There were times when I asked John to support actions I knew would be personally difficult for him but he did it anyway because it was the right thing to do for NGL.

I’m grateful I had the opportunity to know and work with John. He leaves an outstanding legacy and helped to build a wonderful company that I was proud to work for.

Mark P. Meddings, Senior Life Underwriter at American Family Insurance Company

My best memory of John when I worked at NGL was that he always treated me with the utmost respect. He cared about the company and also for the employees who worked there. I have never forgotten his words of encouragement the day I left NGL to start my new career. All I can say is that he acted more like a friend and mentor and for that, I will always be grateful for my time at NGL.

Bob Mucci, NGL Executive Vice President, Treasurer & Director of Corporate Services

I worked with John for over 20 years and was fortunate to have him as both a mentor and a friend. When I think of John, I cannot help but appreciate his integrity and his ability to bring differing opinions together into a consensus. John helped create NGL’s foundation which provides us with the platform to do many great things in the future.

John loved many things. He had a passion for the outdoors and enjoyed sharing that passion with others – especially his love of hunting. About 15 years ago, a few of us went to Edmonton in Alberta, Canada to hunt geese and ducks. On our first day there, while we were waiting to meet our guide, someone broke out the window of our SUV and stole everything we had in it (except our hunting rifles, which were locked up at the hotel). There we were in another country with no clothes, no hunting gear and no passports.

After reporting it to the police, we decided to see what gear we could buy for the trip. We ended up at a Walmart and each one of us was running through the store with our shopping carts looking for items needed.

Now John wasn’t a shopper and usually tended to think about his purchases. That day though, he was like an 18-year-old kid running through the store, throwing stuff into the cart and whenever he would see one of us with something he didn’t have, he would yell, “Where’d you find that?”

While the trip started out poorly, to this day I believe we had more fun than anyone would had expected. A few years later, I was at John’s house and he was working outside in the mud and I looked down and saw he was wearing the $10 black muck boots he had acquired in Canada. I commented on his boots and he said, “Hey, I paid good money for these boots.” Did I mention he was also frugal to the very end?

John always said he liked to hire good people and then let them do their job and he really was good at doing just that. John understood that NGL’s people are what make NGL great and that to succeed you need to trust your people. I think this is one of the reasons that when we started to change in the mid-90s that he was able to help make it happen. It was an uncomfortable period for a 90-year-old company, but John’s leadership and ability to bridge the past with our new future provided the company with the stability and optimism that we needed to tackle the new things we were doing.

John was an accountant by vocation and also a trained attorney. Both professions require an ability to focus on the details and anyone who worked with John for any period of time knows about his legendary red pen. John liked to underline stuff as he was reading it and he also liked to find and circle mistakes and send them back to the writer. It wasn’t that he was a perfectionist as much as he wanted people to learn from their mistakes. He also felt that mistakes on paper were an embarrassment and he wanted NGL to always be the best it could be. I will always believe his red pen made me a better employee and his friendship and council made me a better person. I will think of him always and miss him greatly, especially whenever I use a red pen.

I will miss John dearly. He was my friend, mentor and boss. He made coming to work every day both challenging and also fun. John loved to read and discuss what was happening in the world and he was fascinated by new technologies and sciences. I bet many people won’t know that John programmed the first investment accounting system NGL had or that he was still using SuperCalc (created in 1981) for his personal spreadsheets. It wasn’t that he couldn’t learn Excel, it was that he thought it was a waste of time, when SuperCalc did everything he needed – plus he didn’t have to figure out a way to convert all of his old spreadsheets.

John loved telling a good story that made him and others laugh. He understood the importance of having fun and that laughter creates a personal bond with people that demonstrates our humanity. In addition, he just enjoyed telling stories where he wasn’t the one doing something foolish or where the outcome wasn’t what we expected – and he had a lot of them.  None were cruel or too embarrassing to anyone, but they were funny. We all have done things that made others smile and a few people even had good stories on John.

John, I love you and will miss you.

Tim Nicholson, former NGL Chief Marketing Officer

John was the heart and soul of NGL. His integrity and honesty will never be forgotten.

Mary Ripp, NGL Multi-Line Processing Team Lead

When I first started at NGL in 2011 John would visit the floor and say hello and meet the new hires. I was working on the Agent Support team at the time. He came down to say hi on a Friday when we were having dress down days, so naturally I was wearing my Iowa Hawkeyes shirt. He shook my hand and said, “That clothing is inappropriate and shouldn’t be worn in my building.” Then winked and walked away. I was slightly terrified at first having only worked for NGL about two weeks but I also got to see his less serious side.

Mark Solverud, retired NGL President & CEO

I had a lot of bosses in my 40+ year career, with John holding that role longer than any of the others by far (nearly 20 years). He was a pleasure to work for. He allowed a great deal of freedom for me to do things in the manner I felt best. John was always supportive and although he was not one for lavish praise, I knew that he appreciated me and trusted me, as I did him. He had many characteristics that I appreciated the longer I worked with him. John was a stickler for doing things carefully and properly. He was steady and calm and thus easy to work with. 

I remember my phone call with him in 1999 when I accepted the offer to work at NGL. That decision proved to be a good one which brought me to Madison to work with all of the fine people associated with NGL, including CEO John Larson. I am retired now but will always have fond memories of my days with John and NGL.                    

Editorial: Remembering John D. Larson by Neil Heinen

“We will miss him, but will always be better because of his friendship and support,” said Neil Heinen, Editorial Director at WISC-TV. Click here to read the full editorial.

More NGL memories

3 thoughts on “NGL mourns death of John D. Larson, retired NGL President & CEO

  1. Sherri and family, my sincerest sympathy to you. I will miss John immensely. I so loved working for John, when he would see me in the hallway he would always ask how my family was especially my son Kevin.

  2. John will always have a Special Place in My Heart, he always said Hello and remembered who I was by name, which was Very Important to me and made me feel Special and Appreciated. You will be truly missed by all who knew you and I for one feel Blessed for having known and worked for you, Thank You John. My thoughts are with Sherri and Family Jackie l

  3. John was an amazing man who always took time out of his day to say hello. He cared very much for his employees and made working at NGL a pleasure. He will be missed by so many and I am happy that I was able to work with him. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family.

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