Family hits home run with memorial

Ken Larsen may have been a competitive boxer, baseball, football and basketball player, but to his daughter Zoe, he was a "big marshmallow."

"That's what I remember most was that he took any moment to laugh and live for the moment and lived for what was happening at the time," she said Saturday. "He enjoyed the little things."

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Zoe, her brother Nathan Cheswick, and sister Tanya Ferguson and their extended family gathered at Carrie Jane Gray Park baseball diamonds Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to their parents - dad Ken and mom Rita in a unique celebration of life.

Ken Larsen died in his sleep on Sept. 21, 2012. He was 76. His wife Rita Larsen, couldn't plan anything in his honour because she was quite ill with end-stage renal disease. Shortly after her husband's death, while on dialysis, Rita was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal lung cancer. She died this spring, in April.

Before she died, she asked Zoe, her trustee, if after her death, she'd arrange something for both of them.

"This is where my dad started playing baseball," said Zoe, surveying the diamond at Carrie Jane Gray Park. "My mom wasn't really into many sports, but she liked baseball and this is how we chose to honour them. This was always on her bucket list to do this [a celebration of life.]

"For dad, the most important things to him were friends, family, laughter and sport and we're trying to combine all four of them."

Ken Larsen was an accomplished basketball, baseball and football player who also excelled in the boxing ring while growing up in Prince George. In 1957, his Prince George Junior/Senior high school basketball team competed at the B.C. tournament after which Larsen was awarded a work scholarship to Everett Junior College in Washington. A year later he joined the Vancouver Cloverleafs, winning Rookie-of-the-year in 1958, then played with the Athletics Senior A men's basketball team in Alberni. He then turned to baseball, which took him to Stockton, Calif. to work with a C league team with hopes of breaking into the Vancouver Mounties organization in the late 1950s. The next destination was Calgary, where he competed in football and baseball leagues, and also worked out regularly and played exhibition games with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

At the beginning of the 1960s, Larsen was recruited by the Lethbridge Broders Senior A basketball team which won the national championship three years in a row. In 1962 the Broders represented Canada at an invitational tournament in the Philippines which was intended to be the World Championships, but was reduced to invitational status due to political problems involving the Eastern Block. The Canadian team placed second. The following year, Larsen again represented Canada, this time as part of the national Pan American Games team in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where Canada made it to the consolation round. Larsen played one final season with the Broders in 1963-1964 before joining a Winnipeg area team. In 1966 his Manitoba team won a silver medal at the first Canada Games basketball tournament. Larsen returned in 1967 to Alberni where he played another three years of Senior A basketball and several years at the Senior B level before returning to Prince George.

He was inducted in the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and in May, 2014 was inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame for his accomplishments with the Lethbridge Broders Senior A basketball team.

He was also a board member of the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame.

Saturday afternoon in front of the dugout on the third baseline, about 15 family and friends who knew Rita and Ken reminisced and told stories.

Tanya Ferguson, Ken and Rita's daughter, said she was never as good as her dad was at basketball, but he was a patient dad who never pushed her.

Tanya and Zoe were both accomplished gymnasts with the Prince George Gymnastics Club who also coached the sport.

Ken supported them in a unique way.

"Every day before Zoe and I would go to the gym for four hours a day, he wrapped our ankles and would do physio and massage," said Tanya. "He was pro-active with mom's physio as well. It was the things he learned as a pro athlete that were beneficial to us and for the rest of our lives.

"When we coached, he would give us routines and practices that would exercise certain muscles."

Their brother Nathan played basketball and flag football.

"Dad went to every game and he'd be hollering from the sidelines," laughed Tanya.

After friends and family told stories, a softball game ensued.

Fouls. Line drives. Singles, double plays and RBI followed along with a lot of laughter and giggling.

Saturday's baseball game was followed by a walk and balloon release at Forests for the World to honour their mom Rita and a barbecue at the Fergusons.

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