Florine Ina Peterson Larson
Born Menominee County, MI, August 13, 1909
Died Green Bay, WI, September 23, 2001
“I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.”
2 Timothy 1:5
As far back as she has genealogical information, Mother Flo’s spiritual heritage goes back to the Swedish community in Finland during the late 1800s. Her grandparents, Eric and Sofia Styris, were Baptists – a branch of Protestantism not well accepted by the Lutheran majority. They were called Anabaptists because they practiced believers’ baptism – something Lutherans thought was unnecessary since they had been baptized already as infants in the state church. As a Baptist pastor, Eric taught that New Testament baptism was practiced after personal faith in Christ – not before (please see Acts 10:47-48). Mom said her mother told her Eric and Sofia suffered persecution for their faith: even stoning was part of it.
Maria, Mom’s mother, emigrated in 1889 at age 20 to Kenosha, WI, and became a housekeeper. Other children emigrated to the US as well. She learned English on the job from her employer. On June 3, 1896, she married Erick Peterson in Marinette, WI. Mom spoke of her mother as a “patient, kind, humble, sweet Christian” lady who encouraged the family to follow Christ. They attended the Swedish Baptist Church in Menominee.
It was at this church that Mom and Dad met since both of their families attended there. According to Mom, Maria was an excellent homemaker and seamstress – one who also loved to crochet and knit. Maria was very involved in the church – especially in the Ladies Aid Society which was heavily involved in service to others.
So, it is evident that Mom received a wonderful spiritual heritage through her mother and grandmother. Although Mom would say she strayed from that heritage for a while, she could not forget her roots – an enduring, persevering faith in Jesus Christ passed down to her.
I (Donna Marie Larson Loy) knew there had been a big change in Mom’s life when I was in junior high, and she was about 40 years of age. This was about four years after Dad (Clarence “Clary” Daniel Larson) came back from WWII, deployed by the US army to the European Theater of Operations (ETO). Dad served with the 89th Division, 354th Infantry Regiment (the Rolling W) which faced 57 total days of combat slogging through France and Germany from January 1945 through the end of the war in May. Major General Finley’s men advanced 350 miles capturing over 43,000 German soldiers. The bravery of this unit definitely hastened the surrender of Germany. Dad then was involved in European post-war operations until coming back home in March 1946. His last day in the Army was April 1 when he received his discharge papers at Camp McCoy, WI. (A great website is suggested, “Rolling Ahead: The 89th Infantry Division” ) When asked why he wasn’t very interested in camping, Dad would always say he had enough of it in the fields of France and Germany.
Our family attended a week of meetings at the 13th Street Baptist Church (formerly Swedish Baptist Church) led by Lester Place and his wife, the Musical Places, from Moody Bible Institute. As a result of these meetings she decided the Lord ought to have first place in her life. Mom said she accepted Christ (salvation from sin) at age 10 with her friend Marge (Saline) Johnson at a neighborhood children’s program. And she also went forward publically at age 14 with her friend Marge at a tent campaign in the Menominee, MI, area led by Dr. Torrey Johnson from Chicagoland. However, she indicated she strayed from the Lord during her teens and early twenties. Mom would say she was attracted to the lights and excitement of the big city of Chicago where she stayed for several years and lived with her sister, Marie, and brother-in-law, Lowry Hedstrom, and their children. She used to say she was very sorry about this time in her life when she wandered away from her earlier commitments.
But it was during the week of meetings at the 13th Street Baptist Church that Mom realized she needed to get back to what she knew was right. The big change I noticed was that she wanted to read and study her Bible as much as she could. This was different. She always wanted to be active in the church whenever the doors were open. Before making her commitment to Christ as the Lord of her life these things were not as important to her. Mom learned much from her neighbor “mentor,” Bertha Gregersen, who was a Bible teacher and leader in the church which later became known as the North Shore Baptist Church – affiliated with the Baptist General Conference of America.
It wasn’t long before she wanted to share with everyone what the Lord meant to her – whether in backyard conversations, on the telephone, through Child Evangelism Bible clubs, or just while she was getting to know folks in the community. Mom had a little shelf at the front door entry where she always kept leaflets, tracts, booklets etc. to give to anyone who would come to her door. It was always with a cheery word and smile.
After I went to college Mother began to take positions of leadership teaching Sunday school classes for youth as they progressed from high school to college to career to early homemaking – a total of about 16 years. Those same people came to her for counsel and godly wisdom even into her 80’s and 90’s while she was in the nursing home. Mother built her life into these people as she did with her own children, and they found their way back to her!
Mom also had home Bible studies – one lasting for several years including a neighboring family by the name of Rowe – a mother, two daughters, and a granddaughter. The pastor always knew he could send new believers to Mom’s home Bible studies for growth in their Christian lives. Without giving it a formal name, she was a kind of spiritual counselor to many – neighbors, friends, relatives. Consistently others came first. This was almost a daily thing whether in person or by phone. It was a natural outworking of her personal faith in Christ. She thrived on it!
Mom made sure we had family devotional times around the table in the morning, and she was always encouraging brother Dan and me to read our Bibles and to pray. There was always good Christian literature around the house to read. Of course, by example and constant encouragement Mom made sure we were involved in church activities Sunday morning and evening, midweek prayer and Bible study meetings, youth activities in church and Youth for Christ meetings in the community. We also had Bible club in high school which she supported. Mom made sure we were at summer Bible camp, Sand Lake, Crivitz, WI, (and later for my brother and me at Lake Ellen, Crystal Falls, MI).
Mom made our house a welcoming place for all of our friends – especially for our youth group. She had games for us – and lots of good food. In many ways Mom was the life of the party! I could bring friends home at any time. She and I loved that! It didn’t bother Mom that Dad was in the process of building our house from 1947 until the final touches in 1968 – from brother Dan’s birth to his marriage! Mom made the best of what she had although parts of the house were not yet finished. We started living in the garage first, then the basement, and finally the upper two floors as they were completed. Dad, a master carpenter, built only as he had money for the next project. Whatever he built or repaired, it was done right.
In our day modern families want space and privacy, but this was not the case for Mom and Dad. They never considered their house was just for their immediate family only. There was always room for those who needed a place to live, teenage foster children, relatives or friends. They stayed anywhere from weeks – to months – to a year or more. I (Donna) never heard my parents complain about having too many in the house – even though facilities were limited. If God gave Mom and Dad a place to live, then they would share what He gave. This was a daily sermon without words to all who knew them.
I remember often going with Mother to leave food and clothing with those who had need.
She and Dad were always thinking of the needs of others although they were never wealthy by any means. Again, it was their commitment to the Lord which caused them to understand that what they had was a gift from Him, so they were only too glad to share those gifts with others.
If there could be an occasion to celebrate, Mom would find it. Family birthdays were always a high point for her. Any time she could, Mom would put together a picnic to take to the beach (Henes Park, Kleinke Park or Wells Park) after which we would enjoy a good swim. Mother loved the water. She always had her famous Swedish baked goods and a meal or two in the freezer just in case friends or family dropped in – and could always add home-canned fruits, vegetables and/or popular dill pickles from her “fruit cellar.” In those days, it was rare anyone would call: they just dropped in, and Mom was always ready at a moment’s notice. Company was always amazed at how quickly she could put together a delicious meal!
Dad had a heart for others, too – so much so that he was constantly building, repairing, and doing mechanical work for folks around town as they had needs. In fact, Mom used to say she “loaned him out” to the neighbors even though she had jobs she would have liked him to do. His garage workbench became the neighborhood workbench. Dad’s selfless service to others was the practical outworking of his Christian faith. His motto was: “Make it as good as it was – or better.” He was a “Master Mr. Fix-it.”
Brother Dan remembers Dad as his mentor and best friend. He got started in his millwright skills by working alongside Dad as supervisor in the repair and maintenance of paper mill machinery. Whether it was his mechanical skills, building skills or his millwright skills, Dad was always in demand when the job needed to be done right.
Once Mom made her commitment to the Lord when she was about 40 she never looked back. Everyone who knew her was aware the Lord was her life – an exciting adventure from beginning to end. Sharing Christ was as natural to her as breathing. There will no doubt be multitudes in heaven because of her faithfulness. Even when she was a nursing home resident a 95-year-old woman by the name of Ceil Hogan --and others -- came to know the Lord and grow in Him because of Mom. She had the gift of making the message of salvation in Christ so clear that others would want what she had. They saw Christ in her!
Her prayers to the end were for her children and grandchildren – that they would know the Christ who made such a difference in her life. “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”, Philippians 1:21. “Being confident of this very thing that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”, Philippians 1:6. The power of her prayers lives on for her children and her children’s children. May all of us in the family pass on the Gospel torch we have received as a precious gift from our faithful parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.
Nothing could describe Mother Flo’s close walk with the Lord Jesus Christ better than the last day of her earthly journey on Sunday, September 23, 2001, the very day of Clary’s birthday. (Death had taken him 18 years earlier.) The nursing home called to say Mom would not be able to be picked up for church that morning because she was not feeling well. (Every week prior to this she would look forward to worshipping at the Bethel Baptist Church, and she would always say that Sunday was the “best day of the week!” ) After church I found her unusually weak and listless – almost lifeless and grey in appearance. I spoke to her about pictures I had of her granddaughter’s (Vashni’s) wedding, so she opened her eyes and asked for her glasses: we then looked at the photos and talked about them. (Mom was given her usual Tylenol with applesauce and juice.) The nurse informed me privately she would call the doctor because Mom just did not look good. Was there anything Mom would like me to tell the family since I was going to call them? She related, “Tell Dan to keep praying.” As I leaned over to listen, I thought I heard her softly breathe, “The Lord is coming for me.” Would she repeat what she just said so I could be sure? More loudly she stated again, “The Lord is coming for me.” To confirm I had heard correctly, I asked her a third time. Firmly and clearly she proclaimed, “The Lord is coming for me!” At this point I left to make family calls. The nurse informed me that Mom departed to be with her Lord right after I left her room. The heavenly celebration began – her graduation to glory – walking with her Savior!!