On the morning of Saturday, May 28, fashion designer, Alberta Street retailer and Wilshire Little League mom Kara Larson passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by family, after a 14 month battle with cancer. On Wednesday, June 15, hundreds of neighbors and friends turned out for a standing-room-only celebration of Larson’s life at the Madeleine Parish in Irvington.
“The memorial was beautiful,” said Jennifer Erickson, who works at the Grasshopper and Tumbleweed shops Larson opened on Alberta street. “It was incredible to see so many Kara-Line dresses, so many customers, family and friends. It was the ritual we all needed to truly feel Kara’s presence and to laugh and cry and hold Kara in our own collective presence. It will be hard to imagine our daily lives without her.”
Both Tumbleweed and Grasshopper will continue business with regular hours and have no plans to close.
“We are here and welcoming our community” said Erickson. “Both stores are such a cornerstone to the street and we have seen so many children grow up and so many women who have gotten their wedding dresses from Kara.”
“Kara was a very important member of our community and is already deeply missed,” said Sara Wittenberg, Alberta Main Street executive director. “She was a staunch supporter of our local schools, budding entrepreneurs and Alberta Main Street. She was a colleague and she was a friend. Kara lived her life in color and we are pleased to help her vision live on by supporting the Grasshopper tile project with funding available though our matching mini-grant program.”
As a tribute to Larson, the lower facade of the Grasshopper building (which Larson never really cared for) will be re-tiled in “Grasshopper colors” as part of a community-based project to honor her memory. The new orange, turquoise and green tiles will be interspersed with tiles created at nearby Mimosa Studios by some of the many children who played a part in Larson’s life and were inspired by her vitality and compassion.
“We are very excited to do the tiling project,” said Erickson. “Kara will be smiling and won’t have to keep looking at that ‘ugly’ front tile now. Kara could take anything and make it more beautiful. So, that’s what we’re doing – in her spirit – making things just a little more beautiful and meaningful. It will be a true representation of our small and far-reaching community who loved Kara so.”
“Kara taught us what true compassion and love for each other was all about,” said Wade Siegel, who was one of the coaches for the Wilshire Riverside Little League 50-70 state champion team that Larson’s son played for. “She treated everyone like a member of her immediate family. Each and every player felt her love and embrace equally, no matter who they were or how they played. It was such a treat to experience this kind of grace in such a competitive environment. We will miss her dearly.”
In the midst of her battle, Larson launched an inspirational project called BraveryPDX to raise funds for Providence Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Program. She teamed with Egg Press owner Tess Darrow to design and produce a line of screen-printed BraveryPDX organic cotton scarves and letter-pressed greeting cards. The first batch of scarves sold out in less than a day and approximately $11,000 has been raised for the program so far. Scarves and cards are still available for purchase at the Tumblweed shop on Alberta.
“I met Kara 15 years ago, when I first opened our shop just down the street,” said Austin Raglione, owner of Mimosa Studios. “She had opened Tumbleweed a year before, and her store was already hugely successful. I was in awe of her talent and creativity and I wanted to be just like her. She was a mentor for me and a role model. She helped me understand the importance of supporting community as a business in the neighborhood.”
“Mimosa developed its core mission around building community as a way to give back, largely through my early conversations with Kara and watching her lead the effort on Alberta,” said Raglione. “She was a genius in business and her positive energy and dedication to Alberta Street helped pave the way for so many of us. I owe much of our success to her. The loss for Alberta is huge, but her strong spirit lives on in so many ways and for that I am deeply grateful.”
“Kara really gave us a very important parting gift,” said Erickson. “It is not often in our lives that we receive this time to really reflect and think about what matters. She encouraged all of us to follow our dreams. I have been immersing myself in that and it has really helped all of us with our grieving process.”
Survived by husband John Koenig, son Billy, and many, many friends, customers and co-workers, Larson will be greatly missed by all who knew and loved her. With her final words, according to her family, Larson said that she would be “cheering at the ballpark and cheering us all on to follow our dreams.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Wilshire Riverside Little League.