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First black hoops star in Alberni passes away
A gentle giant who was one of the first African Canadian citizens in Port Alberni and first to play on the Alberni Athletics Basketball team has died.
Ken Larsen died in Prince George in September after succumbing to a stroke. He was 76.
Larsen is survived by his wife Rita, children, daughters Zoe and Tanya, as well as sons Ken, Ron and their mother Trudy. Also left to mourn are Larsen’s brother Henry and sister Berdi.
Ken was born in Calgary and grew up in Prince George, said his son Ron, who still lives in Port Alberni.
An athlete, Larsen played high level baseball and football, even earning workouts with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
But Larsen’s first love was always basketball.
After leaving Prince George, Larsen played with Everett Junior College in the US, then with the Vancouver Cloverleafs where he earned the team’s rookie of the year award.
He left Prince George in the 1960s and came to Port Alberni where he roomed at a boarding house run by Sharky and Kitty Schwarz.
Larsen played basketball with the Alberni Athletics for one year, then made his way to Lethbridge, Alta. where he played hoops with the Lethbridge Broders, winning three senior A championships.
Larsen also played basketball with Team Canada at the Pan American Games in Brazil in 1966-67, then the following year played with Team Canada at the first Canada Games.
He returned to Port Alberni, where he made a life with his first wife Trudy and their sons Ron and Ken.
Former Athletics teammate Bill Andrews remembered the day when the six-foot-six Larsen took to the floor for his first workout with the club.
“You could see right away he was good, really good,” Andrews said. Larsen was a big man who had an even bigger zest for life, Andrews said.
“He was talkative, had a quick smile and a great sense of humour. I really enjoyed his company, all of us did.”
Larsen worked for the pulp mill and played basketball with the athletics. He was also a pitcher in the inter-mill softball league.
Larsen left the mill to form his own construction company. He helped build the Cygnet apartment building on 10th Avenue, the Spencer Park apartments, and some homes on the Tseshaht Reserve.
Larsen was one of the few African Canadians to live in Port Alberni during the 1960s. Two African Americans — Vince Knight and Billy Joe Price — played with the Athletics later but never stayed.
Port Alberni was a contrast to the racially charged US during the 1960s. But Larsen never spoke about his experience as one of the few people of colour living in the Valley, teammate and close friend Garry Panton said. “He felt really comfortable with the guys and I think he felt he found a home here,” Panton said. “As far as I know he never spoke about being subject of any negative racial issues in Alberni.”
The last time Andrews saw Larsen in Port Alberni was five or six years ago at a funeral, he said. “We talked about the old days and he talked about his life in Prince George. That was the last time,” Andrews said.
The memories of Larsen after death are the same as his first impressions of him when they met, Andrews said. “That’s what I remember: that he was a good man, a jovial man, and a man who was fun to be around,” Andrews said. “That’s what I’ll always remember,” Andrews said.