Submitted by Secretary of State Kim Wyman
After earning an engineering degree at Washington State University, Erik Larson did something out of the ordinary for a millennial who grew up in an old timber town pundits have written off as dying. One year ago, he was elected mayor of Aberdeen, winning nearly 72 percent of the vote against a former city councilman old enough to be his father.
Now 24, Larson is the youngest mayor of a sizable city in Washington State history.
Larson’s story is part of “Who are we?” — a series of in-depth profiles exploring a diverse group of fascinating newsmakers in Washington. The project features Larson and 10 other extraordinary people in online profiles and a public exhibit now on display in the Office of Secretary of State at the Washington State Capitol.
The new profile, written by longtime historian and Aberdeen native John C. Hughes, can be found here.
Larson is the great-great-grandson of a Swede who arrived on Grays Harbor more than a century ago to work in a lumber mill. The mayor is proud of his Aberdeen roots but not bound by them. Growing up, he washed enough dishes at his family’s popular restaurants, Duffy’s and the Bee Hive, to know he needed to go his own way.
The mayor was an honor student and state champion swimmer at Aberdeen High School. At WSU, he was inspired by the late Elson Floyd, the university’s visionary president.
Larson is now an engineer with the Vaughan Company, Inc. of Montesano, one of the world’s leading designers and manufacturers of chopper pumps for agricultural and industrial applications.
Tall and articulate, Larson believes Grays Harbor’s largely unspoiled natural beauty, affordable real estate and deep-water port will draw new investment if the city can rehabilitate derelict historic buildings, clean up its grittiness and secure funding for flood control.
“If I can leverage my age to spotlight some progressive things” so much the better, Larson says. “I think the biggest thing we’ve faced is a lack of vision. I want to change that.”
Hughes writes that “most of the hundreds of thousands of visitors who pass through Aberdeen every year can’t see beyond the downtown grunge, yet in the immortal words of Joni Mitchell Seattleites have paved their own paradise and put up a parking lot. Larson’s 15-mile ‘commute’ to his job near Montesano is a lark while Puget Sound is gripped by gridlock. And the average house there costs $500,000.”
“Who are we?” profiles a diverse group of Washingtonians who have persevered to make important contributions to their state – a kaleidoscope of 7 million people. Other “Who are we?” honorees include a former U.S. representative; two talented young Latino winemakers; the pastor who brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Seattle; two legendary Native American activists; a member of the disability rights hall of fame, and an Asian-American artist. The “Who are we?” series can be viewed here.
Legacy Washington is an educational project that is part of the Office of Secretary of State.