By Haley Miller for Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound
For years, Larry Saunders has been involved in making the Tacoma-Lakewood area a healthy and safe community for children to grow up in.
Born in Japan to a military family, Larry has lived all over the world. He joined ROTC in college, at a time when everyone was being drafted, and served 28 years in the military before settling in Lakewood with his wife, Sally. Sally’s father was living in Lakewood and Larry promised to establish a home there.
When he retired from the military, Larry stepped in as Lakewood’s first Chief of Police, and was immediately tasked with reducing steep crime rates, improving educational outcomes, and rebuilding a sense of community in Lakewood. In this role Larry was a huge supporter of bringing the Boys & Girls Club Milgard Family HOPE Center to Lakewood, an organization which he believes is essential to providing kids with support, love and affirmation.
“The joy of working and living in Lakewood is that it was a brand new city,” Larry says. Lakewood had just officially incorporated, and Larry was responsible for building its police force.
Larry describes Lakewood as a sort of “laboratory”; as an extension of a large metropolitan area it is rich with diversity, and also faces the same unique challenges that a larger city does. He identifies Lakewood as the “closest thing to a hometown for a military brat like [him].”
Shortly after retiring from his role as Police Chief, Larry went back into the Army and spent a little over a year in Iraq overseeing its police training program. When Larry returned from his international work, long-time friend Judy Hosea encouraged him to join the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound Board of Directors. Hosea agrees that Larry quickly realized, along with others, that he was the right person for the job. Hosea had worked with him before in a different context, having served together on the on the Lakewood Community Foundation Fund.
After serving on the board for a year, Larry was appointed Chairperson. What Hosea appreciates most about Larry’s service on the board is his level of commitment, heart for youth, and follow-through.
“He [Larry] has an absolutely tremendous ability to lead without using his power and influence to do it … He puts 100 percent of himself into his work,” says Hosea.
Larry prides himself on being a good partner for CEO Mark Starnes during challenging times for the organization. When Starnes came on board, the economic recession of 2009 and recent changes in leadership had a significant effect on the Boys & Girls Clubs capital campaign. Today, the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound serve nearly 40% more kids and the cost to provide services per child are less than half what they were prior to Starnes’ tenure, in large part due to the team’s leadership. The two of them have been an effective team in building a clear vision and rallying others around it.
Occasionally Larry volunteers as a tutor for middle school students at the Boys & Girls Club as well. He believes in the organization’s ability to change kids’ lives for the better. “Every branch I visit has a ‘hum’ of positivity; of things happening,” Saunders says.
As a veteran, Larry also has a passion for serving other vets and their families in the area by making sure that communities are mobilized to aid them in transitioning to civilian life. Larry is the Co-Chair for RallyPoint/6 Service Center in Lakewood, a one-stop resource center for transitioning service members, veterans, and military families. He also helped raise funds to build the 42nd Military Police Brigade Memorial to commemorate 29 fallen soldiers, and to assist with costs for the soldiers’ families to fly out and visit the memorial.
Despite his retirement from a military career and law enforcement, Larry has also continued working as a senior police advisor to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, developing police programs internationally. Today, Larry is finishing up his last project with the IACP and State Department in Morocco.
It is clear from Larry’s decades of public service that he is committed to bringing communities together. Larry wakes up each morning excited to see what the day brings and motivated by opportunities to serve. As he approaches full retirement, Larry looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren, and staying engaged with veterans and children in the community. Although his term as Chair for the Boys & Girls Clubs has ended, he will stay on the Board as Vice Chair.
“Larry gives of himself in so many ways … he is very involved in the Lakewood community, but is concerned with kids everywhere,” Hosea says.
“I am emotionally a very soft person, with a huge heart for kids,” Saunders admits. “I believe in unrestricted opportunities for children, and investing in them upfront.”
– Haley Miller, a recent PLU graduate and Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound intern.