If it’s midday on a Wednesday you’ll find Larry LaLonde on the tennis courts in the bubble at Nicollet Avenue and 40th in south Minneapolis. Never mind that he just turned 94 in March.
“My legs were starting to get rubbery, so I began eating a banana and bringing along a health drink and I feel fine,” he said. “Tennis is a really big dynamic for me, and I enjoy the camaraderie and hitting the ball at someone as opposed to golf when you compete against yourself and hit a little ball way the hell out there someplace.”
His game has actually improved since his wife, Barbara, died Dec. 31, 2011, from ovarian cancer. He still lives in their Linden Hills home where he served as her caregiver.
“I was being combative to the world because it bothered the hell out of me that evil was being perpetrated on my wife,” he said, acknowledging those stresses have since eased.
The last of 12 kids born in the Iron Range town of Gilbert, LaLonde would read newspapers everyday to his illiterate father, Joe, a Canadian-born lumberjack and miner. Larry’s mom died at 42 when he was a baby.
He voted for Norman Thomas, a socialist candidate for president, on his first trip to the polls in the 1940s.
“My father was among many in the Depression who worked hard but never acquired any wealth. He deserved better and it ticked me off he didn’t have better.”
A bombardier in World War II, LaLonde “pressed the button” to drop bombs from his B-17. “But I was never a warrior loaded with testosterone. It was a job.”
After the war, he worked as a vocational counselor in a psych ward and spent 30 years as personnel director for Minneapolis Public Works. Among his nine decades of stories, there’s one he admits is a bit “tawdry.”
He had just gotten his wings and a fresh military uniform in 1943 when he took a leave to show off back on the Range before heading for training in Utah. On the train ride from Duluth to Denver, LaLonde and a fellow officer “started chatting with two women across the aisle. I was 23, mind you.”
Next thing he knew, he was arm in arm with one of the women heading to her room at the swank Brown Palace Hotel where “I had a sexual encounter which I remember to this day.”
Turns out, he later learned, his tryst mate was the late Dorothy Arnold, a Duluth showgirl and actress who was Joe DiMaggio’s first wife.
“She went her way and I went mine, with great memories,” he said. “My only complaint is she wasn’t his second wife.”
That, of course, was Marilyn Monroe.