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Four in the Family
The Larsen clan descends on UMD.
The Larsens make up four of the 134-person population of Meadowlands, Minn. Every weekday, they pile into the car and start their 43-mile commute from Meadowlands, Minn. to UMD for another day of classes. That's because, this fall, all four family members attend UMD.
Jacob G. Larsen, the youngest son, and his father, Erik, will be the only two making this drive next year. Chris, the eldest son, will graduate in fall 2017 with an organizational management degree, and his mother, Gretchen, will graduate in the spring of 2018.
“I wanted to go to Concordia originally, because a cute-sounding girl over the telephone called me,” Jacob says. He didn't want to join Chris at UMD. “I’d already lived with him for 18 years. I wanted that to stop.”
It didn’t stop. Jacob headed to study biology in Duluth a year after Chris. The Larsen boys even chose to be roommates at UMD, against their parent’s advisement. It was a decision that neither regretted. “Support, tuition, family being nearby ... it just made sense,” Jacob says.
A Family Affair
The parents followed the sons. Gretchen majors in human resource management, and Erik pursues a criminology degree and is enrolled in the museum studies certificate program.
Erik and Gretchen met while on active duty in the Air Force, and they traveled for 26 years, all over the world. Minnesota called, and they eventually returned to Erik’s hometown of Meadowlands.
“The intention was always to settle down,” Erik says. “At the time, we didn’t know we’d be going back to school.”
While Gretchen had experienced life as a college student, Erik hadn’t been in school since he was 18. That led to an interesting family dynamic. As Jacob says, "Mom took on the role of a college-to-Air-Force translator.”
“When Erik wanted to do something with Chris’ room, I reminded him that Chris will be home for Christmas and the summer," says Gretchen. Erik wasn't so sure.
"I graduated high school and six weeks later I got on the bus," Erik says. "I went to the Air Force, and I came back 26 years later." Erik had equated going to college with enlistment. "I had no idea that Chris would be back so soon. So there went the home gym."
There is No Downside
The Larsens agree that having the family together in a school environment has been overwhelmingly positive. They even take some of the same classes, a fact Chris says has been helpful.
Gretchen had to adapt to coming back to school after so much time. She says that many of Chris and Jacob’s peers refer to her as their “school mom."
"Being that I could be the parent to almost everyone in my class, it was a little different," says Gretchen. "It was a shock coming back."
"When Jacob got here … it was great having him around because I knew somebody I could turn to if needed," says Chris. "When mom started school, it was really nice to see her so much.
"Probably one of the biggest challenges, from a parent's standpoint, was we couldn't give them the benefit of advice because we're going through the same thing," Erik says. "It is their adventure. They need to figure it out."
“We told Chris and Jacob early on that they wouldn't be moving back into the house as the children they were when they left," says Erik. "Chris and Jacob are junior partners in this contract.”
Chris and Gretchen even had a class together. "That was really fun for me," says Chris. "When I'm not comfortable, I'm pretty shy. Having that immediate support in class made me much more outgoing, more talkative, and more engaged. I got better grades."
Chris's good grades weren't the only benefit the Larsens have noticed. They say that attending college together has also brought them closer.
“The shared experience definitely helped us,” Erik says.
Photo above, L to R: Gretchen Larsen, Chris Larsen, Jacob G. Larsen, and Erik Larsen.