Authors: By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN
NORTH BALTIMORE, Ohio (AP) -- Jorgen Larsen loved to tell stories. But few may be as fascinating as the story he left behind when he died eight months ago.
Like any good tale, some juicy tidbits must be dangled at the beginning to keep the readers tagging along. So here are just a few - a Danish merchant marine lost at sea, a "black sheep of the family" who loved his adopted community so much he left nearly a half-million dollars to it, and a woman who loved her bulldogs so much she left nearly twice that amount to them.
First, the half million dollars.
Seven community groups were recently notified they had been bequeathed $63,571.20 each by Larsen, when he died at age 92 on Dec. 13. Those bestowed with Larsen's generosity were North Baltimore's high school, the Masonic Lodge, American Legion, village park, St. Luke's Lutheran Church, along with Bowling Green State University and the Wood County Humane Society.
"Everybody knew him as `Lars.' He was a nice old guy," said George Thompson, attorney for Larsen's estate. "He was kind of a reclusive man," who didn't leave home much except to make his daily afternoon walk to Limbo Cafe in the downtown for a cold beverage. "He'd have his beer."
But there was much more to the aging Dane - much more that the old-timers in the village may remember. Just ask James Miller, executor of Larsen's estate.
Larsen, raised in an educated Danish family, became a black sheep of sorts when he quit school to learn to sail, according to Miller. He was a Danish merchant marine when the Nazis invaded Denmark in 1940. To prevent the Germans from commandeering their ships, the Danes sailed to American ports. Throughout World War II, Larsen sailed for the U.S. Maritime Commission, delivering war materials to England.
During one such trip to Europe, Larsen's ship was torpedoed by the Germans 600 miles west of Ireland. Larsen and some of his shipmates floated in a lifeboat for nine days before being rescued.
At this point in the story, you may be wondering how the sailing Dane made it to North Baltimore.
In order to get a better position on ships, Larsen attended the Seaman's Institute in New York in 1942. It was there that he met his future wife, Betty Jo Coffey, a college student far from her hometown of North Baltimore. She was the daughter of Russell Coffey, the World War I veteran from North Baltimore who lived to 109 years old.
After the war, Larsen and his wife moved to New Orleans briefly, and he sailed on merchant ships in the Caribbean.
In 1946 the young couple moved to North Baltimore.
"Lars lived there for the rest of his life," Miller said.
Larsen became manager at L.L. Trout Furniture Co., where his design talents quickly became appreciated.
"Lars was known as the person who had a terrific eye for things," Miller said.
After the North Baltimore store closed, he became manager of Bedland in Toledo, where he was known for his droll television commercials.
The Dane was a man of diverse interests and talents, according to Miller.
Though he wasn't a native of the village, Larsen had an uncanny memory for people and their family connections. He was a very sociable man, with townspeople remembering him for his entertaining stories, quick humor, and unanswerable retorts when he was displeased, his obituary stated.
"He was a well-known person in town," Miller said.
Larsen was active in the village's Masonic lodge and Lutheran church for 60 years. From childhood he was interested in radios, and was a lifelong ham radio operator who loved to talk with expatriate Danes all over the world. He was an accomplished cook and baker. He played violin, was an avid reader of literature, and wrote poetry.
"He was a fascinating person," Miller said.
His interests also included animals and nature - henceforth his bequests to the park and humane society.
"Being European, he didn't have much use for cars," Miller explained of the park donation. "He walked everywhere."
Leading frugal lifestyles allowed the Larsens to accumulate a great deal of money over the years, Miller said.
"I never knew him to spend very much money," he said.
So now you know about the merchant marine part, and the community bequests, but where do the bulldogs come in?
Well, it just so happened that Larsen and his wife separated at some point - not legally - and lived in different residences. They had one daughter, whom Miller dated at one time, and who died about eight years ago.
So when Mrs. Larsen died a few years later, instead of leaving her money to Lars, she left it to her beloved bulldogs - nearly $1 million.
That's where Thompson came into the story, with his law firm acting on behalf of the surviving husband who was legally entitled to approximately one-third of the estate.
And don't worry, "the bulldogs were well taken care of," Thompson assured.
Even after his death, Larsen's life is the topic of stories. His home was full of books, many Danish. Miller worked hard to find appropriate sites on which to bestow them.
"There were three Danish libraries in the U.S. who were thrilled to have his books," he said.
Other items may be sent overseas, back to Larsen's homeland.
"I'm still occupied with finding the right place for his historically significant things."
Among them is the note dropped from a British plane to a lifeboat of stranded sailors nearly 70 years before. "Don't despair, help is on the way," it reads.
The storyteller's tales - and results of his generosity - will no doubt live on for decades to come.
Information from: The Sentinel-Tribune, http://www.sentinel-tribune.com