Former LDS Church Historian Dean Larsen dies at 92

(Tribune file photo) Dean Larsen speaks in General Conference in 1987.

On a dark October day in 1985, Dean Larsen, official historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, called seven employees into his office to issue them a warning: Be careful on your way home.

Larsen’s team of Mormon history specialists had just learned that Mark Hofmann, who was known at the time only as a rare-document dealer, had been seriously injured in a car bombing and, since they were involved in acquiring some of those items, they might be in danger, too.

“We needed to be very careful going home that night, he [Larsen] thought,” recalled Ron Barney, one of the employees on that deadly day. “All of us went home being scared.”

It wasn’t until later that they found out Hofmann had forged most of the documents and also had killed two people (including another document collector) in bombings to distract others from his deceit.

That autumn night, the kindhearted Larsen, who died Oct. 28 at age 92, was a calming presence, Barney said. “I don’t think there was one iota of mean-spiritedness in him. He did our department a lot of good at the time.”

Though employees thought Larsen bore a striking resemblance to comic actor Leslie Nielsen of “Airplane” fame, Barney said, “we tried to take him seriously.”

Indeed, Larsen “provided stability to the church historical department during a turbulent time,” said Richard E. Turley Jr., former assistant church historian and author of “Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case.” “As a staff, we appreciated his wisdom, his experience and his compassion.”

Overseeing the history department from 1985 to 1997 was Larsen’s final assignment as a general authority for the church, a faith he was born into and served for most of his career.

He was born in Hyrum, Utah, on May 24, 1927, where he spent the bulk of his childhood. He earned an undergraduate degree from Utah State University in English and Spanish after serving in the Navy at the end of World War II.

Larsen taught in the public schools of the Big Horn Basin in Wyoming for eight years before being tapped in 1960 to teach LDS seminary in the Church Educational System at Brigham City’s Intermountain Indian School.

“All my life I have been interested in Indians — as a boy I used to read everything I could get my hands on about them,” he said in an official church biography.

Barely a year later, Larsen became assistant coordinator of Indian seminaries at church-owned Brigham Young University and the next year was appointed secretary of the Church Indian Committee. After three years in that post, the educator taught at the Ogden Institute of Religion.

In 1976, Larsen became a Latter-day Saint general authority as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, after serving as a bishop, member of the Church Priesthood Missionary Committee, secretary of the adult correlation committee, member of the Sunday School general board, and regional representative.

“I have a great desire to be useful,” Larsen told the faith’s Ensign magazine after his call to the Seventy, “to the Lord and to people both in and out of the church.”

When the longtime church leader retired in 1997 with emeritus status, he spent his days “fly-fishing in the streams of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana,” providing fruit and vegetables from his garden for family and friends, and “pursuing a hobby of painting in oils and acrylics,” according to the family obituary. “His artwork can be found in the homes of family members as well as with friends and associates in many parts of the world.”

Larsen, whose wife, Geneal, died previously, is survived by five children, 17 grandchildren and more than 30 great-grandchildren, many of whom gathered Monday at services to remember their hardworking, well-liked family patriarch.

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