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Tireless USU ‘retirees’ play Johnny Appleseed for Lebanese growers

January 30th, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Courtney Rhodes

LOGAN—Traditionally, most people slow down when they retire, but not Paul and Lorna Larsen.

Since retiring in 1992 as USU vice president of extension and continuing education, Paul Larsen, now 83, has yet to acquire the slow, relaxing retiree lifestyle.

For the past 12 years, one of his many projects has been to rebuild Lebanon’s apple industry. In the early years, Lebanese farmers were resistant as Larsen imported thousands of Washington state apple rootstocks to the Middle Eastern nation.

See related story from USU Magazine on Paul and Lorna Larsen.

Many of the Lebanese growers thought the new, smaller trees would bear less fruit than their traditional trees, which were much larger. But Larsen soon wore down the skeptics.

To the Lebanon’s apple growers, Larsen is now a godsend.

“Helping people grow crops is important and it shouldn’t be limited to who or where they are,” Larsen says. His teachings, research and knowledge have been translated into Arabic and distributed growers, where they are implemented in different regions of the eastern Mediterranean nation. With Larsen’s help, Lebanon’s apple industry has been revived and new generations of growers are being educated in successful practices.

Not only do Larsen and his wife, Lorna, help educate the Lebanese growers, but they also show them how to sustain the new industry. Traveling to Lebanon every other year, Paul works with growers in the fields on techniques for planting, pruning, irrigating, harvesting and transporting the trees and apples, while Lorna maintains the business side of things.

All the Larsens’ time, work and outreach have been a donation of kindness that has given a country a thriving fruit industry. Larsen says the growers that once resisted the changes he brought have now embraced them.

Worldwide, the Larsens have had an impact on many people and cultures, but they have not forgotten their Utah roots, making contributions to the College of Agriculture for more than 20 years, and creating a scholarship in their name for horticulture majors.

“We created this scholarship for students who have a passion for horticulture, who want to help make a difference and an impact in people’s lives,” Lorna said. “Everyone must eat to live. Agriculture has to be able to sustain us.”

In the process of their “retirement,” the Larsens have created a community that spans the globe. But no matter how much praise the couple receives or how many things they accomplish, the Larsens reject the idea that they have done anything extraordinary.

“The only thing I have accomplished of any importance was marrying Lorna,” Paul said. “I just simply enjoy helping people and having her with me is what is extraordinary.”


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