Former Richfield Mayor Don Larsen leaves legacy of collaboration

by Sue Serdinak

During eight years as mayor of Richfield Village, Donald Larsen kept a watchful eye on the community.  His election came during a period when verbal confrontations by council toward the mayor were frequent. Larsen’s quiet but authoritative demeanor helped calm the rhetoric.

Larsen made good on his promise to serve senior residents. He created the Human Resource Commission and took the first steps in opening the Richfield Senior Center in the former Richfield Library building on the Town Hall campus.

He appointed Jan Weber the first director. Weber recently said, “Don listened well about the need for senior services. He did his best for us.”

Larsen was classified as a part-time mayor, earning an annual salary of $18,000, yet he led the village through many additions and changes.

The first cluster housing development, Kensington Reserve, was built on Route 303, not without opposition.

Commercial development ramped up in the Wheatley Road area. Charles Schwab and Interstate Insurance opened large buildings in Kinross Lakes. Broadview Road extension was closed, making way for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation to construct a headquarters in the new Stonegate development. Flex-space buildings were constructed, along with the headquarters for OEConnection; Cisco Systems followed.

A veterinary clinic on Brecksville Road and Timberlake office park opened.

The Hampton Inn (now Courtyard) and Richfield Courtyard Commons opened on a busy stretch of Brecksville Road. Shortly thereafter, Ohio Turnpike Commission created new ramps, closer to the residential neighborhood, to connect the toll road to I-77. The new interchange reduced traffic volume on Brecksville Road, which resulted in less business for nearby hotels and restaurants. Dairy Queen and Burger King closed.

However, the Pilot Travel Center and the FedEX ground terminal opened north of the turnpike.

In response to requests for more facilities for children, Larsen enlisted the Ohio Operating Engineers to create ball fields, a picnic area and a new road in parkland donated by Hershell Hunt. The new park was named Richfield Woods.

Larsen supported the merger of Richfield Village and Richfield Township, but township voters defeated the plan and went a step farther and petitioned for full separation from the village. The courts gave the village some township buildings as part of the separation. On one parcel, the village created a memorial park in front of the Taverne of Richfield.

Under his watch, the township police department was merged into the village department. He installed a new police chief, Dale Canter, and fire chief, Jeff Stopak, when their predecessors retired.

In the center of town, the Taverne closed, but Stancatos purchased the building and opened a family-style restaurant.  

The village purchased the former drug store and AMVETS property in the center of town to begin the creation of a corner green.

Consolidated Freightways, one of the first trucking companies to locate in Richfield, closed its terminal on Brecksville Road, leaving behind an eyesore.

When President George W. Bush visited Richfield, it took the coordinated effort of more than 200 law enforcement officers to ensure the security of the President.

The 9/11 attack occurred during Larsen’s term.

New fire and police stations were built and remodeling of Town Hall was started, while the administrative offices were temporarily set up in the senior center.

Brecksville Road, south of Wheatley, was reconstructed from a pot-holed, two-lane road, to a three-lane road with a wide berm.

In spite of all he oversaw as mayor, Larsen continued to work half days at Larsen Lumber and Supply, the family business in Brecksville.

Larsen graduated from Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, served in the Army Reserves for eight years and was a volunteer fireman in Brecksville for 33 years. He joined his father Harry at Larsen Lumber at the age of 13 and took leadership in 1986.

After moving to Richfield, he was a Cub Scout master and Little League baseball coach.

With all of his activity as Richfield’s mayor, Larsen often left his village office at noon and went to Larsen Lumber in the afternoon. He tacked on many evening meetings each week.

Rita, Larsen’s wife of 67 years, was always by his side, supporting his community service. She and their four children survive him: Bill (JoAnn), Rick (Anne), Jean (Eric) Nielsen and Rhonda Spann plus 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. ∞

Photo: Don Larsen, the Village of Richfield’s fifth mayor was a man of service. Photo from ScripType archives.