Naples couple's trust bequeaths record $13.6 million gift to Community Foundation
The Community Foundation of Collier County has received a $13.6 million gift, its largest ever, from the estate trust of Naples residents Wilfred and Joan Larson.
Their trust has also gifted other communities they lived in, bequeathing $9.9 million to the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, where they resided in the 1990s, and another $15.4 million to the Grand Traverse Regional Community Foundation in Michigan. The Larsons were Naples residents for the last 20 years.
Eileen Connolly-Keesler, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Collier County, said she was aware the trust would include the foundation. But she was surprised, and delighted, at the amount. She confirmed it is the largest gift ever the foundation has received.
"And it is for unrestricted funds, which can be used for any of the many organizations we work with. It's unbelievable generosity," said Connolly-Keesler. What really impressed her, she said, is that the Larsons gave similar gifts to three communities they had lived in.
The Community Foundation makes grants to local organizations and funds leadership and community initiatives. In collaboration with FGCU, it also annually updates its report, "Vital Signs," that pinpoints where needs are greatest in Collier County.
"I think that's a very good message to people — that you should give where you live," Connolly-Keesler said of the gifts.
Wilfred Larsen died March 30, 2019, at age 91 in Naples; his wife, Joan, died at age 89 on Sept. 27, 2017, in a rehabilitation center in Traverse City, near their other home in Leland, Michigan.
The Larsons supported philanthropic organizations where they lived, with an emphasis on the arts, conservation and education. In Collier County, that support included the Immokalee Foundation and the Neighborhood Health Clinic.
"I don't think they ever sought out recognition," said Alison K. Douglas, who served as the Larsons' Naples trust fund adviser. "And they not only gave to those communities as a way to continue supporting them after their deaths. They gave during their lifetimes, too."
She recalled the couple as deeply committed to health care, and the arts, particularly classical music. But education for underprivileged children was a "paramount" cause for them, Douglas said.
The two were high school sweethearts and married in New York in 1949. Wilfred Larson worked in management for a number of companies, retiring in the position of president and CEO of Westwood-Squibb Pharmaceuticals Inc., after 28 years with the Buffalo, New York-based company.
According to his death notice in the Leelanau Enterprise in Michigan, Wilfred Larson first worked for Ward Foods in New York City, 1953-1963, serving as chief financial officer from 1961 to 1963. He then worked the Drackett Co. in Cincinnati from 1963 to 1979, serving as executive vice-president for 10 years.
He also was a veteran of both the U.S. Naval Reserve, 1945-1947, and the U.S. Army, 1951-1953. A lifelong fitness enthusiast, Wilfred Larson attained the status of Golden Glove, welterweight division, in his younger years.
Joan Larson, a bridge enthusiast, was also interested in preservation. She worked for the restoration of the historic Fishtown, a cluster of declining maritime fishing shanties, smokehouses, overhanging docks and boats that hearken back to the fishing industries early days in Leland. Today the area is a tourist attraction.
The couple had two children: a daughter, Linda, who died, and a son, Bob, who lives in the Buffalo area; and one grandson. A second grandson also preceded them in death.
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.