by Amby Sarabia
photography by Reina Santa Cruz
Ellen Louise Larick smiles as she explains that her life was a little different in the La Verne in which she grew up. No paved roads, no tract homes, no name “La Verne” for starters.
As the youngest person at age 23 to head the La Verne College library, Larick set precedents that make her part of the history she has long recorded as librarian and archivist. “I very much enjoy La Verne,” she says. “It seems like it belongs to me. It’s home. It’s my life.”
Larick was born when the city was still known as “Lordsburg.”She could write a detailed history of the city itself, for her story is intertwined with that of both city and school. She watched the University of La Verne blossom, befriending such legendary figures as W. I. T. Hoover, Ellis M. Studebaker, K.A. Sarafian and C. Ernest Davis, now known to current students for the buildings that bear their names or tall tales that grace La Verne’s history.
Even in retirement, she continues to work, weekly in the Wilson Library as a part-time archivist but usually in the comfort of her cottage at Hillcrest Homes. A look at her room lends insight into the woman sitting in her pastel blue recliner; a seat meant only for her. Ever the archivist, she surrounds herself with books. Shelves filled with binders hold historical information about her family, while others keep works of fiction. “I still have so much work to do,” she chuckles as she points to a pile of papers located on the floor by her desk. “I still have all those papers to organize.” The inveterate librarian continues to research, collect, organize and then re-organize her items again and again until they meet her approval.
Even at a venerated 92, Larick is obsessed with her enduring passion: books. Discovering her literary zeal at a young age, she followed her enthusiasm for cataloging and organizing assets in numerous libraries. But no matter where she ended up, she always found a way back to ULV. Some of her contributions to the University include administering the library when it was in Founders Hall and designing its new home in the Hoover Building in 1951.
“Larick knows so much about ULV that she would know people in pictures from old yearbooks and be able to identify them,” says Dr. Marlin Heckman, friend and former Wilson Library head librarian. “She has so much in her head that she can do things no one else can.”
“Larick is very interested in the heritage that proceeds,” expresses Gary Colby, professor of photography. “She works so diligently and holds knowledge of the institution.” Standing by the University even through the hardest times, Larick is representative of the old La Verne College. “The University is going in new directions, but it all started from Larick and Marlin,” he explains.
Larick grew up in Covina with her mother Lilly Trout, her father Walter Larick, brothers Harvey, Henry, Keith and sister Doris.
Although her parents never received a high school diploma, both were determined to see all five children complete college. It was for this reason that at age 10, Larick and her family moved to Ontario to be close to Chaffey Junior College. “My whole life was made by marvelous people who have helped me,” she says. “Beginning with my parents.”
Once in Ontario, Walter managed an orange grove while Lilly worked in the fruit cutting sheds and cleaning houses. The children did odd jobs to help out. Larick served as a live-in house cleaner during the summers, while the boys sold fruit and caught the gophers that ruined the roots of orange trees. Although each family member contributed to the family’s survival, education was placed before everything else.
Louise Larick and her siblings attended school when they were not working. It was in the 7th grade at Ontario Junior High School that she vividly remembers discovering her calling in life. After passing a vocabulary test with flying colors, she was able to spend her free period working in the library. While other children were taking an English or math class, Larick helped students at the circulation desk.
“I enjoyed it,” says Larick. “And in high school, I was able to take a class that taught me how to be a librarian.” Working hard in both school and the library, Larick and her family were also active in the Church of the Brethren. “We had a very spiritual upbringing,” she says. “We were taught we are here to serve one another.”
“She is the most generous person I have ever met,” professes Colby. “She puts her money where her heart is. I believe she gave away most of the money she ever made.” Unable to argue, Larick admits that she might give too much. “I like to give to people since I was always without,” she explains. During 1929, at age 16, Larick and her family were forced out of their home when a new owner took over the orange grove and fired Walter. Determined not to live on the streets, the family settled into an 18-by-18 foot garage which Walter and the boys built themselves. As if seven people crammed into a garage were not enough of a hardship, Doris stepped on a nail one day and contracted tetanus. Her brother Keith suffered through polio, a leading cause of death at the time. “We still had a lot of fun together,” says Larick. “We played ball in the street, had youth meetings at church and did little social things.”
Poverty did not stop Larick from graduating from Chaffey High School and enrolling in Chaffey Junior College. After graduating in 1933, Larick was attending Riverside Undergraduate Library School for state certification, and during this time she was approached by the dean of La Verne College. Eager to entice those working in the library to enroll at La Verne, he sold Larick on the idea, and she applied to the College in 1934. “It was not hard to get in,” she says of the school that would one day be ULV. “It was hard to get out.” At the time, there was very little money in the college budget, and the campus was simple, with few features such as the flowers that today are a symbol of the campus. “I saw the planting of the oak trees,” reminisces Larick.
Paid only 35-cents an hour, Larick continued to work in the library and struggled to pay tuition. Times were especially difficult with the Great Depression at its deepest. “Everything was different,” she explains. “You did not spend money unless you had to.”
Limited to a mere slice of bread and an egg a day, she recalls difficulty remaining focused on school. Larick and other students looked forward to the Brethren farmers who brought fruit, such as melons and grapes, to them. With little food and even less money, Larick lost herself in her studies and worked hard in the library. Her efforts were rewarded when Modena Miller, head librarian, noticed Larick’s abilities and recommended she be appointed head librarian. “She said I was better qualified,” she says. After her graduation, the tireless knowledge seeker set her sights on the University of Southern California. Unable to afford a car, Larick would rise before the sun and catch the bus for the long trip into Los Angeles. Once there, she would have to jump onto a streetcar to get to the campus. Every day for 12 weeks she would repeat this round-trip by herself, returning home exhausted at 8 p.m. “She has never let anything get in her way or stop her,” claims Heckman. Not surprisingly, while she was earning a bachelor’s degree in library science in 1947, and master’s degree in science and library sciences 10 years later, Larick continued her work at the La Verne College Library.
When she was 48, during one of her departures from La Verne’s library, she finally bought her first automobile to get to her new position as District Librarian of the Azusa City Schools. In her two-toned 1953 Chevrolet, the ever-benevolent Larick became a means of transportation for many. “I would pick up people along the way to work. I soon found myself to be what other people think of as ‘too generous,’” she says. “I just want to help people, because I did without.”
Aleta Kerker, former assistant to Larick, is a good friend. Now assistant to current University head librarian Taylor Ruhl, Kerker met Larick 18 years ago when she was hired as a circulation assistant.
She says that although her job was to assist Larick, it was often Larick who helped her. “She encouraged me in my artwork and taught me all of her organizing skills,” she says. “She has changed my life in many ways.” Kerker’s paintings line Larick’s room today.
“Even after all she has gone through in her life, she has a lovely innocence about her which I find so refreshing,” Kerker says. “She never looks at life in a cynical way.”
“She is genuinely Christian and dedicated to her faith,” says Colby. “Her generosity enabled me to buy my house.”After moving into Hillcrest, Larick sold her home to Colby for an exceptional price. “She made it possible for my family to live in the house they live in today,” Colby smiles. “I hope that I can model after her generosity and welfare of friends.” Today, Larick’s knowledge, humanity and resourcefulness continue to be called on by her neighbors at Hillcrest. When she took charge of selling books in the thrift shop, they earned $700 in a single day. “There is always something to do here,” she says.
In between helping other people, taking care of her finances and organizing her personal items, Larick continues to visit the library, at least once a week. “All the work she has done is very important,” Heckman declares. “Louise has handwritten all the indexes; 15 binders of indexes,” Heckman explains. “If something needs to be added, she will handwrite it all over again. That index is a work of art.”
“It’s all I know,” Larick says of the library, her true home.